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Sunday, November 1, 2009

homemade ricotta cheese

homemade ricotta

My mother makes her own farmers cheese. Hers is a simple process, but a lengthy one that takes about a day, with milk and buttermilk slowly simmering together on the lowest heat imaginable until they slowly curdle and form amazing, delicate, tangy cottage cheese. It is a farmers cheese I cannot get enough of when I go home, and if it traveled well, I’d be bringing lots back to New York with me. Unfortunately, I cannot give my cheese experiments twenty-four hours – I have to leave the apartment building for work, gym, errands, and something about an unattended pot makes me anxious.

i heart this milklemons make me smile

But ricotta cheese – that’s another story. It takes very little time to make and most of it is hands-off time – letting the milk boil, draining the curds. Simple and quick! And I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to actually make it. So simple, it’s nothing more than a few simple ingredients. When combined, they do something transformative and magical and create delicious, creamy ricotta.

cream, being poured

These are the kinds of things in the kitchen that really put a smile on my face. I generally like to putter around in there and find contentment in chopping things and baking and braising. But things like baking bread or making ricotta cheese, or butter, these are things that make me feel closer to the elements. They’re truly simple pleasures: basic, fundamental and true.

pushkin's first day at home

Which brings to another basic, fundamental and true thing: love. As I type this, a tiny furry creature is curled up to my right, blissfully asleep. Periodically, he sighs, rolls over and falls back asleep. World – meet Pushkin McLovin’ – a new addition to the Sassy Radish household. He’s mighty pleased meeting you and he’s super playful and very soft and I’m terribly, terribly smitten with him. I’m not sure at what point I fell in love with him, but here I am, a little unsure of what’s next, but very excited to have him. It feels very simple and basic and wonderful.

readying the cheese cloth

Back to ricotta – I can’t stress how easy it is to make and how delicious. I’m pretty sure that once you try this at home you may never buy the store version ever again because it is a pale, pale comparison to its homemade cousin. It also has a million uses, from stuffing manicotti, to cannoli filling to something I’ll talk about in my next post. Because I like to keep you guessing.

homemade ricotta

Which I think is what Pushkin will do as well – keep me guessing for awhile. What kind of cat will he be? Lively or mellow? Affectionate or aloof? Only time will tell, but I can tell you this much – this not knowing, is actually quite nice.

Continue reading homemade ricotta cheese.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

mushroom pâté

mushroom pate

You must forgive my long silences because when it rains, it pours. I’ve been pre-occupied with more family things, this time around concerning my grandmother who is, sadly, is no longer with us. She was someone whose life deserves a special mention and more thought, which will be forthcoming, but for now I’ll say this – I’m extremely lucky to have gotten to know her so well in my thirty one years. She made an indelible impact on my life and taught me so much, often without so much as uttering a word. In her last days, she surprised everyone around her, nurses, doctors, our family, with her relentless spirit and strength. We will miss her and we’ll always love her.

Needless to say, planning for all this somber business took some time and I’ve been making some frequent trips to Boston. Let’s just say the bus folks know me well by now and greet me with “Nice to see you again so soon!” I wish it were for happier occasions, but I have hope those happier times are coming. Things must start looking up at some point!

mushroom pate

So while this isn’t a post about my grandmother, she’d have greatly approved of this mushroom pâté. She was a big believer that spending as much time outside as possible was an essential step to good health. And she, herself, was of strong constitution, hardly having any health issues, until the very last years. Back when we lived in Russia, she was always opening windows – even in the midst of the coldest winter days – to air the rooms out. “Provetritsya,” she’d always say, as my mother would rush to close the windows back, afraid I’d catch a cold. A great fan of outside, my grandmother would have been pleased to know that I plan on many a picnic this summer.

And this mushroom pâté is bound to be a hit at any picnic. It takes little time to make, requires few ingredients: oil, mushrooms, onions, salt. But while it’s simple to prepare, it comes across as luxurious and quite complex. A spoonful on a cracker or a baguette slice, it will elevate any picnic to a gourmet level. With dishes like this, we all owe it to ourselves to have as many picnics this summer as possible. Not only will it encourage us to savor the summer’s produce (not that mushrooms are an indication of the season) but we can share wonderful meals with friends and family – memories of which will keep us warm through the winter season.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

picked garlicky red peppers

Picked Garlicky Peppers

Among foods I can eat in near unlimited quantities, pickled things are at the top of the list. Perhaps because when I get hungry I don’t crave anything sweet (though worry not, I have quite the sweet tooth as evidenced by the cavity-forming December), but savory and salty. And there’s vinegar present – all the better.

In Russia, when I was growing up, fresh fruit and vegetables were not available in the winter (other than things like potatoes and carrots) and so we did a lot of our own canning at home. My mother would boil the jars and put place tomatoes, cucumbers, cornichons, or mushrooms in them and pour warm vinegary pickling marinade over, then sealing the jars. How she did this, I haven’t a clue – her canning skills were impeccable, and everyone knew her pickled tomatoes as the best around. To this day, even the best of Brighton’s tomatoes don’t hold a candle. Yes, I had a marvelous, gastronomic childhood.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

We didn’t pickle anything ourselves after coming to America and it’s something I kind of miss. In Russia, pickling was a ritual that got everyone involved in the kitchen, even my father. It was something we did each fall with during the harvest season, to enjoy eating in the cold winter months. Cold winter months in Russia commanded bold, intense flavors and salted or pickled foods went perfectly with a staple like potatoes. Just try putting some marinated mushrooms on top of freshly boiled potatoes, sprinkle some dill and sliced onion and see what happens. For me – it was nothing short of heaven.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

But I digress. I could wax poetic about such simple meals for pages and pages and will only find the deafening snores of everyone around. I’ll quit while I’m ahead and instead tell you that I’ve sort of started to pickle at home. All thanks to Deb and her husband who let me sample some of their pickled garlicky peppers, suspecting, though not knowing fully, the monster they would then create.
The very next day after sampling these amazing things, I marched to my produce place – that manages to sell peppers at reasonable prices this time of year, and picked up ten peppers and a head of garlic. While I always have garlic at home, I see no reason NOT to pick up more of it when there’s an opportunity to do so.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

I’m telling you – waiting twenty-four hours for the peppers to be ready was twenty-four hours too long, and the first moment I could, I piled a generous helping into a bowl, sat on my couch, and devoured these peppers in one instant. Undoubtedly, these will become a regular staple in my kitchen now, because they are delicious, easy to make and go with virtually everything. Or at least I think they do. And while it’s not the traditional type of pickling, it’s close enough for me and serves as a lovely and comforting reminder of a childhood memory.

Picked Garlicky Peppers

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

chicken liver pâté

chicken liver pâté

All right, I’ll get quickly to the point here. If you are celebrating Christmas, you are probably either traveling to your celebration destination or cooking a meal and preparing for the festive holiday. This is for those of you in the kitchen who might be looking for a quick appetizer that makes you look like a three star French chef, while your guests ooh and aah, and you feign hard work and great kitchen skills – this is for you. You can thank me later, but first go and see for yourself how easy and awesome this is.

chicken livers

I will warn you now that this requires three (that’s 3!) sticks of butter which is probably why it tastes so amazing and luxurious. When I served this at book club, the ladies dove right in – a sign of great success. You can make this tonight and serve this during the cocktail hour tomorrow. When you pour the warm pâté into the dish where you will serve it, don’t worry that it might seem too liquid – it will set, I promise. If you are having a bunch of people over, it might work to chill the pâté in several small dishes that you can set around your apartment or house.

i know raw liver - EW!

Or, if you are running short on small gifts to hand out, these make perfect homemade gifts. Pour the pâté into a small jar, affix a double layer of wax paper with a piece of twine or ribbon and attach a gift tag. And in an instant you have a thoughtful and luxurious gift! An appetizer that doubles as a gift too? Now that’s holiday cooking worth spending a few minutes on!

Wishing everyone celebrating Christmas a wonderful and festive holiday!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

cheese quesadillas with guacamole

memories of high school

My sophomore year in high school, my roommate taught me how to make quesadillas. We had to take turns in the dorm periodically cooking for our floor-mates whenever we had meetings. And Diana, being homesick for her friends and family food, wanted to introduce us to her favorite snack – the quesadilla. Hailing from East L.A., speaking fluent Spanish, she felt torn away from her Mexican roots. We spent many a night on our dilapidated couch talking about home, being scholarship kids in a prestigious school, trying to blend in and make friends. Our two favorite indulgences back then were fried dumplings and cheese pizza – we practically lived on those two things.

the makings of a quacamole

That is until quesadillas came into my life. I remember how the first bite tasted and I remember, I couldn’t stop eating them. While we couldn’t get our hands on real Mexican queso, Diana confided that her family used Monterey jack cheese for years and they liked it just fine. And since I’m a fan of melted cheese in general, it was quite all right by me as well.

not yet melty - but soon!

And so the day after my housewarming party – which was quite a bit of fun and well attended, though I missed some friends who were stuck in airports and under the weather; I needed a lazy day of cleaning up, catching up on reading and some comfort food. It was the first really chilly day of the season and as I went through some old pictures, I came upon a picture of me and Diana, on our first day at school. And I knew exactly what I was making for dinner that evening. With my new kitchen island assembled, I had space to chop the ingredients and set them aside. I enjoyed each bite and even though my tomato went rotten and got chucked, and I forgot to pick up a jalapeno, the quesadilla and the accompanying guacamole were heavenly, making my Sunday evening feel almost like a mini-vacation.

the cheese is INSIDE!

Not that I wouldn’t turn down a real holiday – I’m long-overdue since the last one was in March. Any suggestions where a cash-strapped girl might go? I’m kind of thinking the West Coast.

Continue reading cheese quesadillas with guacamole.