Category Archives: Vegetarian

Accidental Ricotta

Seeing as February is almost over, I should probably get around to posting about this month’s cheese recipe from Another Year Without Groceries.  This time Rachel challenged us to Work With Rennet in the form of mozzarella.

What the hell is rennet, you ask?  It is the reason I make a profoundly sad face when watching you bastards enjoy Manchengo, Parmesan and a variety of other cheeses with an emotional fervor.  Rennet is an enzyme that usually comes from the lining of calves’ stomachs and helps with the cheese-making process.  It is also the source of extreme awkwardness when, as a vegetarian, I have to ask about the enzymes in the cheese at restaurants.  The usual response is:


“Let me check on that…”

And then they spit in my salad.

I was quite pleased to find vegetarian (plant-based) rennet at my local overpriced-wannabe-dirty-hippie market.  Let the mozzarella making commence!

Or so I thought:

Though delicious, this is clearly not mozzarella.  After chatting with Rachel, I think I made the mistake of stirring too often during a critical step.

So, another gallon of milk later, I corrected the error and was the proud parent of this one pound beauty:

Yield: About a pound of mozzarella and 1-ish cups of ricotta

  • 1 gallon whole milk (do not use ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1 1/2 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup filtered water
  • 4 drops liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup filtered water
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  1. Pour the milk and dissolved citric acid in an enormous pot over low heat until it reaches 90°F/32°C.  Remove pot from heat.
  2. Add dissolved rennet and give a quick stir to incorporate.  I think this is where I went wrong with my first batch.  I stirred with some frequency and created ricotta.  Though a trusted source says it’s perfectly fine to stir like a crazy person.  Let me know what you decide to do.  Cover pot and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Gently try to pull the curd away from the side of the pan.  If you cannot do this, cover and let sit for another 5 minutes.  If you can, using a sharp knife, plunge knife through the curd and cut into 1-inch squares (a good photo of this step here).
  4. Return pot to stove and heat the curd over low heat until it reaches 105°F/40°C.  While this is heating, fill a large mixing bowl with ice water, place a colander in the sink lined with a food-grade cheese cloth and start your tea kettle.
  5. When curd has reached 105°F/40°C, remove from heat and carefully scoop out curd with slotted spoon.  Place in cheesecloth-lined colander.  Leave whey (clear fluid with some cheesy bits) in the pot for now.
  6. Gently press excess whey from curd in the colander.  Be gentle.  Then place into a large mixing bowl.  Pour hot water (not boiling!  You want it about 180°F/82°C) from the tea kettle over the curd, just enough to cover; the curd will start to “melt”.  Dissolve the salt in the hot water.  Now, glove up with clean rubber gloves because this shit is hot. (You can also skip the hot water bath and microwave the curd as outlined by Rachel).
  7. Grab a good handful of the curd and stretch, roll and form a ball of mozzarella.  I grabbed the whole lot of it and after rolling it around for a bit, used a bread pan to create one big lump.  Create whatever size you like.  When you are happy with it, plunge into the ice water to stop the cooking.
  8. While your cheese balls are cooling, turn your attention to the whey still in the pot.  Simmer until you notice little white blobs floating around – that’s real ricotta (ricotta = “twice cooked”).  Strain and season with salt.
  9. Eat.  Revel in your hard work.

I chopped up some of the mozzarella and let in sit in some olive oil with whole peppercorns, garlic and red pepper flakes to eat as is, while the rest of it and the ricotta went in a lasagna.

It seems like a lot of work and if I could stress one thing, it’s to be prepared.  You do not want to be scrambling around your kitchen looking for things; have everything out and at the ready.


January: Buttermilk Cheese


Posted by on 28 February 2012 in Cheese, Recipes, Vegetarian


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Word Hole (and a recipe)

And what I’ve been stuffing in it:

I’ve been really bad about documenting the contents of my weekly CSA boxes, but this gives you a good idea of the awesome, organic and locally-grown food I’ve been enjoying.

My order always includes eggs and this week I decided to make mayonnaise.  For those who may be squeamish about consumption of raw eggs, I believe this only highlights the need to know where your food comes from.  Use a fresh egg from a known farm with sanitary practices and the risk of salmonella will be minimal.

Also, this tastes so much better than whatever you could purchase from the market.

Yield: 1 cup-ish

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp white vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
  • 1+ tsp fine salt
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 cup mildly-flavored oil (vegetable, canola, sunflower, etc)
  1. Add all ingredients, except oil, into a bowl and whisk the bloody hell out of it.  And then whisk some more.  The color should be very pale and your shoulder will be in pain.
  2. Add just a few tbsp of oil and KEEP WHISKING.  The egg mixture should start to thicken.  Congratulations, you have created an emulsion.
  3. Swear violently because your arm is now starting to cramp.
  4. Slowly add the oil in small increments and whisk like you’ve never whisked before.  Gasping for air, call for help because you fear you may black out.  Mixture will start to resemble mayo in thickness and appearance.
  5. Once all of the oil has been added and successfully incorporated, taste and add a pinch more salt if desired.  Will keep in the fridge for a week.

I have attempted to make mayo in a food processor and a blender; both with disastrous results.  Whisking is the way to go.

If you’d like to turn this into an aioli, replace the powdered mustard with 1-2 tsp of Dijon mustard and add a few cloves of minced garlic to the egg mixture.  Use olive oil in place of the mildly-flavored oil.

Use on everything.  Will keep in the fridge for a week.


Posted by on 27 February 2012 in CSA, Food, Photographs, Recipes, Vegetarian


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Recipe: Roasted Garlic & Basil Pasta Sauce

Last week, the following photo of mine was featured on one of my favorite blogs, Food in Jars:

It goes without saying, I was thrilled. The positive reaction I received was overwhelming and many asked for the recipe. This was a problem since I’m a “that-looks-about-right” type cook and tend to throw things in a pot, disregarding my measuring cups.  However, the food-blogging public has been very kind to me by way of recipe sharing and I set out to write it down.

So, welcome newcomers!  Please note, though I post the occasional recipe, this is not a food blog and I tend to swear a lot.  Hopefully, you’ll come back.

Roasted Garlic & Basil Pasta Sauce
This is a nice small batch for beginners or a good way to use up the last of your garden tomatoes
Yield: Approximately 8 cups (enough for about 2 quarts or 4 pints)


  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • Whole head garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 6lb tomatoes; I prefer to use Roma tomatoes, but use whatever you have on hand.  Tomatoes with thick flesh and low juice are ideal.
  • 1-2 large onions; diced small/medium
  • 3 cloves garlic; minced
  • 1 cup red wine; go for something like a robust Chianti and stay away from anything overtly fruity
  • 1+ tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup tbsp dried chopped basil; if this seems excessive, feel free to use less
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped oregano
  • Salt & pepper
  • Bottled lemon juice; this is only to be used if you will be canning the sauce using the water bath method.  If you are freezing the sauce or using a pressure canner, the lemon juice is omitted.  More information will be given below.


  1. Roast peppers: Over a gas flame or under the broiler, roast the peppers until skin has blistered and turned black.  Place in a paper bag and close the top or in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; the captured steam helps loosen the skin.  Set aside.
  2. Roast garlic: Heat oven to 350°F.  Remove any loose flakes of skin from the head of garlic and slice off the top; revealing most of the cloves.  Rub a scant amount of olive oil on the palms of your hands and then rub your hands over garlic.  Wrap in a piece of foil and roast for 1 hour
  3. Prepare tomatoes: Fill a large non-reactive pot halfway with water, bring to a boil and nearby, fill a large bowl with ice water.  Score an “X” in the bottom of each tomato with a sharp paring knife.  Boil tomatoes for about a minute, remove with a slotted spoon and then plop them into the ice water.  Once they are cool enough to handle, peel and discard (compost!) skins, using the paring knife to loosen stubborn areas.  Add more ice to bowl as needed to keep water cold.  Dump water from the pot and return to stove.  Roughly chop tomatoes (for Romas, I usually chop in half or into thirds) and give a gentle squeeze to remove seeds.  Some people are very diligent about removing the seeds.  Me – not so much.  I try to get as many as I can, but because I’ll be cooking the tomatoes for a long time, the bitterness of the seeds fades. Return chopped tomatoes to pot.
  4. Cook: Remove skins, cores and seeds from peppers.  Roughly chop and add to pot.  Add onion, minced garlic, wine and 1 tbsp sugar.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  During this time the garlic should finish roasting.  Remove it from the foil and when cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves right into the pot.
  5. Cook some more: Tomatoes will be extremely soft at this point.  I use a potato masher to break up any large pieces, but prefer my sauce on the chunky side, so mash/blend to your desired consistency.  Add the basil and if you are hesitant about using 1/4 cup, start with 1 tbsp, let it cook for a bit and then taste.  Add oregano.  Add salt and pepper to taste and, if needed, additional sugar 1 tsp at a time.  Simmer, uncovered until sauce has thickened.  This can take an hour or more.
  6. Decisions, decisions: Now that you have a pot of sauce, what are you going to do with it?  You have four options:
    1. Eat it now.
    2. Freeze it.
    3. Can it using the water bath method.
    4. Can it using a pressure canner.
  • Eat it now: Self-explanatory.
  • Freeze it: Pour sauce into freezer-safe containers, allowing room for expansion and freeze.  These are my preferred containers when freezing.  You can put mason jars in the freezer, but only choose jars that have straight-sides and are without cracks and chips.  Let the sauce cool before putting into glass jars and then let them come to room temperature before placing in the freezer.  Extreme temperature changes can cause glass to shatter and I’m sure the last thing you want to find in your freezer are frozen shards of glass hidden in frozen chunks of tomato sauce.
  • Water bath method: Add 1 tbsp of bottled lemon juice to each pint jar or 2 tbsp to each quart.  Ladle hot sauce into hot jars leaving a 1/2″ headspace.  Wipe rims clean, place lid and affix screw band.  Process for 40 minutes.  Carefully remove jars and let cool on towel-lined counter for at least 12 hours.  Check seals and label; immediately use or refrigerate jars that failed to seal correctly.
  • Pressure canning: I’m referring you to a professional site as I do not own a pressure canner (scroll down to “Tomato Sauce”) and do want to be responsible if you blow up your kitchen or give your dinner guests food poisoning.

It may take some time, but homemade sauce is always worth it.  Serve this over your favorite pasta or even use as a base for pizza.  While I’m heating this sauce, I like to add a heaping scoop of chèvre as it adds a richness and mild tang that I find irresistible.

To answer a few questions:

  • Why dried herbs?  I do not think there is a scientific reason behind this.  Most favor using dried herbs in canning recipes for the simple reason that herbs are best consumed when fresh and why waste fresh herbs in a sauce that is going to be cooked for hours and then stored?  Make fresh pesto with your basil and use the dried stuff in sauce that is going to be saved for winter.  Though, some people swear by adding a fresh basil leaf or two to each jar.  I know this recipe calls for an obscene amount of dried basil, so please experiment: add fresh herbs, play with different herbs (I do love rosemary in a hearty tomato sauce).  This is your sauce now.  Own it.
  • What’s up with bottled lemon juice?  The pH levels of tomatoes need to be adjusted when using the water bath method.  Though fresh lemon juice is always preferred when cooking, the acid levels vary from lemon to lemon, where as the acid level in bottled lemon juice is constant and known.  The amount is large enough to adjust pH, but small enough not to alter the flavor.

Please let me know if you make this.  I would love to hear what you thought and if you made any changes.  Enjoy!


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