How to make reduced fat ricotta

Remember when we canceled cable, which then lead to tv withdrawals, followed by tv overdose? I couldn’t take it any longer. I missed the Food Network and just the randomness of tv too much… so we finally got cable back. Surprisingly, I’ve been watching it in moderation. No more tv binges!

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So the other day I happened to stumble upon Anne Burrel’s Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. During the episode she showed how easy it was to make ricotta cheese. I couldn’t believe it. The whole thing literally took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. Of course I had to try it myself… and make it lower fat!

Ricotta is milk and heavy cream (3:1 ratio), curdled by the addition of acid (vinegar in this case… I’ve seen buttermilk used as well). Super easy! I subbed low fat milk for whole milk in Anne’s ricotta recipe and got to work.

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Mixture before and after. See the curdles forming? I let it simmer for quite a bit (probably 20 minutes) but there was still a lot of liquid.

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I don’t know if that’s normal but it didn’t seem like more curdles were forming with more time so I decided to go ahead and move on to the straining stage.

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15 minutes later…

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Homemade ricotta!!! Party smile

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Deciding what was for breakfast couldn’t have been easier!

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Ricotta + sour cherry preserves = heaven!

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This ricotta was a bit drier than the whole milk stuff but I just loved the mild taste of cream in each little curdle. Adam and I snacked on it straight out of the bowl last night. The stuff is crazy addictive!

PS – Does the background in the photos look familiar?

PPS – I have a new recipe up on Russian Bites. Check it out Smile

And now a question for you… What should I do with the strained out whey? I can’t bring myself to throw it away. I’m sure I can make something genius with it… help me!

Birthday cooking demo at Sweet Basil

My birthday was a few weeks ago so this post is a bit late. But the thing is, Sweet Basil is one of my favorite restaurants in the Boston area (it’s actually in Needham) and this cooking class taught by owner Dave was really fun and the food reminded me of why this place holds such a dear place in my heart. If you’ve never heard of Sweet Basil, you need to know of this place’s existence and I’m here to do just that!

Let’s back up though… cooking class? Birthday? What is she talking about??

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[My dad, mom and Adam]

The Newton Community Education offers many adult classes, including cooking demos from local chefs (side note: your local high school probably offers lots of adult education classes too… I took a photography class at Brookline High when I first got my dSLR and it definitely taught me all the basics I needed to no longer be intimidated with my camera). My dad found the one taught by Dave, which just happened to be on my birthday. The cooking demo was held at Sweet Basil and included a 4-course lunch.

Learning cooking tricks from a talented chef and enjoying delicious food is definitely one of my favorite ways to spend a day… and the perfect way to celebrate my birthday. I was so there! Smile

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[The place is adorable with a modern yet cozy feel. All the dishes and silverware are mismatched, as if you’re at someone’s very quirky home.]

Before he began his demo, Dave chatted up everyone and showed off his latest obsession – homemade vinegars. I think this one was plum. He’s always so passionate about the food, his restaurant, the neighborhood, the guests. Sweet Basil doesn’t take reservations so on most nights Dave “works the crowd” (aka greets the guests, tells some jokes, pours them some wine… it’s BYOB… and even brings snacks to the front of the restaurant and outside for those who are extra hungry. I seriously love this place!!

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There was no wait this time though. We dug into the most amazing pesto ever. I promise you. I crave the stuff. I’ve had it at many restaurants and have made my own. Nothing comes close to Sweet Basil’s version! (I have the Sweet Basil cookbook so I am determined to try making it this year!)

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Surprisingly, everything Dave demoed and we ate during the luncheon was different from the typical Sweet Basil menu, which actually made me love the place even more. It’s simple ingredients coming together in something seriously special.

Take this spring vegetable soup (potatoes, garlic, white wine, spinach, peas, broccoli, splash of heavy cream – toms + shrimp and shredded Asiago for garnish)

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It doesn’t look particularly appetizing, just a bunch of greens from what the eye can see, but it’s incredibly flavorful. There is garlic, there is cheese, body from potatoes and a touch of cream. Every single person licked their bowl clean. Adam asked me to make it very soon. I’m making it this week. Yes, that good Smile [PS – I have all the recipes and don’t want to post them here, but if you’d like to recreate any of these, email me!]

Random trick I learned? After steaming the green veggies, drop the whole colander of them into a big bowl of ice (it stops the cooking process and keeps the greens from turning brown). Then when you need the veggies again (in this case when you need to blend them), pick up the colander from the bowl and you’ve got all your veggies right there! I don’t know why I always dumped the veggies straight into the ice bowl before and then picked them out one by one. Such an obvious (yet genius) little trick!

Next up was a cute little amuse bouche of sorts. Crostini with lemon-herbed ricotta

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Toast the bread on ice side only to get that perfect crunchy yet chewy balance.

Chickpea fritters with cucumber-mint aioli, served over salad

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The chickpea fritters sounded like falafel but man, they were so much more than that! There were some caramelized onions in the mix (which bugged me so I only had one bite and then picked out a few chickpeas… they were yummy) but I still really appreciate the flavor. You toast the chickpeas first, then smash them slightly, so there are whole (crunchy) chickpeas in the mix which are just so much fun. I can’t wait to recreate these, sans onions! Open-mouthed smile

The last course was jaw-dropping gorgeous. Lamb chops served over parmesan bread pudding

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… topped with fresh figs. Dave was so excited about his shipment of fresh figs (which were particularly sweet and just perfect) that he decided to let them shine instead of messing with them. The quality of ingredients is so key!

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I’ve never had a savory bread pudding and I can now say I’m a big fan. It was cheesy with a hint of rosemary – a rich and delicious side. [Btw, I am not really a lamb fan so I was more excited about the extras.]

The demo wasn’t that educational (I’m a bit of a geek so I knew a lot of what he was sharing with us) but it was such a fun experience and a delicious treat. If you’re ever in the area, make sure to stop by Sweet Basil. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed (the roasted beet and goat cheese salad is the best I’ve ever had… and yeah, that pesto. Mmm).

The dork that I am, I brought my cookbook copy and made Dave sign it. Nerd smile

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Oh I will enjoy it! Open-mouthed smile

Have you ever attended a cooking demo taught by a chef you admire?

*** PS – This wasn’t really a restaurant review given the special circumstances, but if you’re looking for local restaurant recommendations, check out my restaurant reviews page!

Making ravioli at home

There are certainly many great ravioli products out there but it always seemed to me like such a special thing to make at home. I mean, the filling possibilities are endless and how fancy does making your own ravioli sound? Winking smile

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With that said, I always thought it was a little too advanced for me… until one day Shannon had me and Kerstin over for a little ravioli making fun (ok, that first picture of me is embracing. I think I’m going to have to pre-approve all future pictures of me in the blogosphere :lol: ).

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We made the most delicious butternut squash/mascarpone ravioli and that’s when I realized that with the right tools, homemade ravioli is actually quite easy! I added the KitchenAid pasta roller attachment to my wishlist that very night and was very happy when Adam purchased it for me for Christmas! He’s a good husband! Smile

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Well, over 3 months later I finally made my very first batch of ravioli at home! Shannon was coming over to hang out so I put her to work as well. Winking smile It really is easy – I’ll show you! Smile

We made pasta dough out of 150g Italian 00 flour, 50g white whole wheat, 2 eggs and a pinch of salt. You start by making a little well for the eggs (see above), and gently incorporating the eggs into the flour – one at a time.

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With a bit of muscle (and a bit of water, if needed) these few simple ingredients become pasta dough!

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Divide into little pieces, and cover under a damp (not wet!) towel.

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Roll each ball into a disk, and then it’s time to use your fancy equipment! There is a knob on the right of the attachment – start with 1 (thickest) and work your way up to the thickness (or should I say thinness?) of preference (with a bit of trial and error, we learned that “5” was perfect for ravioli).

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With each round, the pasta sheet becomes thinner and longer!

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Whoa! Smile with tongue out

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Fold into thirds (or more) and repeat 2 or 3 more times (again, starting with 1… going up to 5). This will result in a smoother texture of pasta.

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Ready to turn those pasta sheets into ravioli?

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We made 2 different fillings – mashed potato and mushroom (Russian inspired) and shrimp, sundried tomato & feta. Both were fantastic!!

I had this “fancy” ravioli mold which produced very pretty ravioli but was a pain! Here is what the process looked like – you could also just free style it (you’ll see below we switched to that method after a while).

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Don’t these look professional? We were very proud! Open-mouthed smile

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Repeat with the shrimp filling.

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This pasta sheet was done at a “6” thickness – it was too thin to hold the shape together. See what happened? No bueno.

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Btw, if you have any extra dough after shaping your ravioli, you can combine all your scraps and run them through the machine again – you may just have another batch there!

Fresh pasta cooks very quickly. These were ready in 2-3 minutes in boiling water.

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Here are the free-styled ones (we sauteed them in a bit of EVOO, balsamic vinegar and chopped basil). So yum!

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It took a bit more effort and love but the results were well worth it. I can’t wait to continue experimenting with different pasta dough recipes and fillings.

Have you ever made ravioli from scratch? What fillings should I try next?

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