Tip of the Week

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes

Whether you love pancakes or don't, this recipe may change your mind.  Personally, I'm not a pancake fan and don't think pancakes make a good breakfast, but these lemon-ricotta pancakes are light and fluffy and make a great dessert or brunch dish.  In fair warning though, they can be addictive once you try them.  Even more so when you use homemade ricotta cheese (click here for my post on making ricotta).

This recipe is from another Williams-Sonoma cookbooks, Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch, click here for a link.  However, you can find the recipe on their website, just click here.  I usually pair these pancakes with blueberries or blackberries.  Strawberries just don't work with this dish, for me.  Though they are great by themselves too.

This recipe does call for buttermilk, but I find it can be hard sometimes to find organic buttermilk.  A great substitution if you can't find buttermilk, or don't have it on hand is to use whole milk or half-and-half.  Buttermilk is a bit sour or tangy compared to milk or half-and-half, so I add a dash of apple cider vinegar.  Depending on how much buttermilk is called for determines how much apple cider vinegar I will add.  Roughly about 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar for 2 cups of milk.  Note: Don't measure the full 2 cups of milk, the apple cider vinegar and milk should still measure 2 cups together, not more.

The other great gadget to use for this recipe and any other time you zest citrus is a Microplane grater.  I was given one for my birthday this year and I LOVE it.  Zesting the lemons were so easy, you barely touch the lemon to the grater and end up with a ton of zest.  If you usually use a normal grater, as I have in the past, this is the gadget for your wish list because you will be able to zest citrus much easier.

Now on to the results of this recipe:

The main ingredients (not all)

Look at that zest!

It will be slightly lumpy because of the ricotta

Egg white soft peaks - adds the light, fluffy texture to the panckaes

I use a ladle to pour the batter on the griddle

Looks like it's time to eat!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Homemade Ricotta - It really is easy

I finally decided to try making my own ricotta.  My Aunt introduced me to the topic of making ricotta, but I always thought it looked tricky.  After trying it, I realize it's not difficult, it's just science!  And probably the easiest cheese you can make at home.  I used the recipe in Williams-Sonoma Family Meals cookbook, but you can also try this one at Organic Gardening Magazine.  What I liked about the recipe in Family Meals, was that it used milk and cream and the time to cook was much shorter than the one at O.G. magazine.  If you watched FoodNetwork Star, the contestant Eric Lee, made ricotta cheese and the process he used is a cross-between O.G. magazine and Family Meals.  Here's his recipe.

I don't think it matters which method you use since the end result is basically the same.  What I found after reading (and watching) the different methods was that the recipe in Family Meals is easy to follow and doesn't require as much time as the other recipes.  (I find that this is one of several, among my "go-to" cookbooks).   Essentially you heat the milk and cream to 185 degrees F, add vinegar, then salt, cover and let sit for 2 hours.  Then remove curds to drain in cheesecloth and a colander for 30 minutes and then store in a container.  Easy right?

My end result was worth the effort and patience.  Making ricotta is fairly easy, though it does take a little time as most things.  I may not always make my own ricotta when I need it, but it is worth making once in awhile.  The kitchen smelled good and fresh ricotta tasted divine.

Curds forming after adding vinegar

More curds after stirring and a dash of salt

Looking like ricotta after 2 hours


Draining the ricotta

Finishing touches before storing (or eating)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Oven-baked risotto

Oven-baked risotto - sounds crazy right?  Well if you love risotto, but find it takes forever to cook or you always mess it up then this is for you.  I found the recipe in Rachel Allen's  Favorite Food at Home book and I love her recipes.  But you can find basically the same recipe posted at this website. It's so easy plus you get lots of green vegetables in it.

I picked up some local, freshly picked and shelled sweet peas, asparagus and spinach.  A great combination and you don't taste the peas (it you aren't a pea lover).  I love this great spring recipe and it is easy to serve for a dinner party.

Monday, May 28, 2012

It's almost time to make pickles

I have been watching my garden grow and admiring all my hard work.  Slowly, but surely I am seeing my plants grow, bloom and develop vegetables.  My tomatoes are growing, but have not ripened.  A few peppers are growing, the rest are blooming and my eggplant is blooming too.  The exciting part are my cucumbers, especially my pickling cucumber plant.  In a few short days I will have the first pickling cucumber to pick and pickle.  Here is 3-4 weeks of time lapse for the plant.  Now the question is dill pickle or bread-n-butter pickle.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

After enjoying strawberries freshly picked (there's a strawberry stand about a half-mile from my house), I always turn to my go-to strawberry-rhubarb recipe.  Normally this is a crumble or crisp recipe and I love the touch of orange-liquor in it.  Click here for the recipe.  Earthbound Farm's cookbook has a similar recipe with ginger in it for those that like ginger with their strawberries.  This year though I decided to change it up and made a strawberry-rhubarb pie with my leftover strawberries and rhubarb.

The recipe is really straight forward and I always use organic butter in my pastry or pie crusts.  It can be done and you don't need shortening.  Both recipes I used were in Williams-Sonoma's Baking Book.  Pie crust is fairly easy to make once you master it.  The first few times you are always bound to make a few mistakes.  The key to a great pie crust is to not over work the dough.  I love using my pastry cutter when combining the cold butter and flour.  And then add enough water to form a ball of dough.  When you roll it out you should be able to see spots of butter - hence flaky crust.  Over-worked dough with be tough, not flaky.  And remember to vent your double-crusted pies, that's why there's a 'x' in the middle of the pie crust before baking.  Not venting your crust will result in exploding pies and a huge clean-up.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A little wine, sun and chocolate sauce

Over the weekend I was able to meet up with a very good friend and enjoy some fabulous wine in the Napa area.  There really are many wineries I want to visit, but we settled on two for this visit.  Ceja Winery in Downtown Napa and Black Stallion Winery just north on Silverado Trail.

As always, I make a stop at Oxbow market and the Modal Bakery.  I love their bread!  Ceja was just a short walk down 1st Street and I was very happy with this choice.  A very intimate setting and knowledgeable staff.  We tried the tasting and I enjoyed all of their wines, white and red alike.  Very great wines, it was hard to choose which one was a favorite.  The Sauvignon Blanc was very crisp and would be great for a summer's eve, while the Pinot Noir was one of my favorite reds.  It did not have the strong oak taste that I find many reds have.  But the other white's and red's were great too.  I finally settled on the Cabernet Chocolate Sauce and used it on some berries and ice cream. Yum!

The last stop was at Black Stallion Winery which isn't far from Trancas Street.  The tasting room was quite grand with a lovely patio area.  There are several wine tasting choices and prices vary depending on which tasting you choose.  I tried the white wine tasting since I had tried their reds at the Napa B & B Holiday Tour.  The reds are aged in oak and oak comes across very strongly in red wines for me.  The Sauvignon Blanc was on the sweeter side and the Pinot Grigio was my favorite.  If you prefer Chardonnay they have a few choices and the Rose was good.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A gem along the coast - Filoli

I am always looking for new places to explore and my recent find was Filoli, which stands for Fight, Love and Live.  Filoli is near Half Moon Bay along the California coast and is an historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Click here for the website.  The family that built Filoli also built and operated the Empire Mine in Grass Valley.  Empire Mine is worth the drive up to the foothills of Grass Valley.  I really enjoyed putting the history together since I had previously visited Empire Mine State Park.  And I would go back to Filoli to see it during different seasons, plus it is so close to Half Moon Bay.

Over Mother's Day weekend Filoli's society members host an annual Flower show, which is spectacular.  There were so many things that really inspired me and others that I admired.  Here's a few of my favorite flower arrangements and table settings.

As for the gardens, I am a little envious of the vegetable garden, orchard and green house areas.  Rows and rows of berry vines, several greenhouses and immaculate garden grounds.  I loved wandering around, enjoying the sun and all the different plants and blooming flowers.  There was so much to see I can't possibly show pictures of everything.  You must visit this and at different times of the year too.  I think seeing the tulips in bloom would be stunning.

The largest and pinkest artichoke flower I've seen

Rose garden

Flower and Herb garden

To the orchard

New Links and Favorites for May

This month I thought I would share some of my favorite finds and links, maybe you will be inspired too.

My next sewing project (once I find the fabric/colors I want): Here

Great craft idea for tin cans and 4th of July or Memorial Day: Here

I want to braid my hair like this for the summer time: Here

This dessert would be very festive for 4th of July or Memorial Day: Here

And my favorite quote for the month is:  "Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes"

I have been spending a lot of time in my garden, getting everything planted and watching my plants bloom.   But I have gotten back into my crafts.  Here's one I recently finished.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Testing Giada's Artichoke Recipe

I recently recorded and watched a new episode of Giada at Home on the Food Network last weekend.  Click here for the recipe.  It really was perfect timing since I had two artichokes I had been meaning to cook, but steaming and dipping in mayonnaise is boring after awhile.  Luckily I had all the ingredients in my cupboard to test out this recipe.

The recipe is straightforward, though I had extra stuffing left so 3 artichokes would be more appropriate then two.  I also found that using a spoon with a pairing knife worked best in removing the center "choke" part.  Don't be hesitate to use the anchovy paste, you really don't taste it, but you can reduce the amount if you prefer.  I also love steaming my artichokes with the lemons in the water and be sure to add some lemon juice to your cut artichoke or it WILL brown, just like cut apples do.

Very yummy!  With a little crunch from the bread crumbs, no mayo needed.