PARIS -- I'm all for doing things that you'd otherwise pay someone else to do for you -- I own a super-heavy DeWalt drill, which can make perfect holes for hooks and brackets in French marble, and if there's a leaky roof, I know how to fix it. When it comes to things in the kitchen, though, I'm usually a little less of a DIYer. Of course I love to cook, but things that take days and days to complete, I try to avoid.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that I could make my own almond milk and ricotta cheese, no special equipment needed, and each would take no more than 10 minutes. Really.
I don't remember where I saw it first now, the recipe for making your own almond milk. But when I did, I thought that it would be silly not to give it a try since I loved almonds already and loved the idea of it but couldn't bear the awful-tasting store-bought almond milk -- not in France, not in the U.S., not anywhere. Besides, it meant that I only needed to buy one thing. Almonds. I love recipes like that.
And make it I did. After an overnight soak of some nuts and a whirl in the blender the next day, I had almond milk -- creamy, real almond-tasting stuff, not sweetened, not added-to in any way. It didn't need anything. It was delicious on its own.
Loaded with potassium and calcium, almond milk replaced yogurt in my daily post-yoga smoothies; I started putting it in coffee instead of regular milk, too. It'll work in all sorts of places where regular milk is used; I'm still exploring different baking opportunities, but so far, I'm loving the almond crunch power cookies recipe that I came up with recently (far right), which uses almond milk, slivered almonds and almond butter -- and there's quinoa flour, too -- so it's a super-protein kind of cookie, the perfect thing to pack for a hike, or snack on after a big run.
As much as I love stinky cheese, I've also always had a thing for mild, milky ricotta. There's an Italian trattoria here in Paris that makes its own, and I always go there for the pizza with ricotta, which it puts on by the spoonful right in the middle.
But now that I can add "ricotta cheesemaker" to my résumé, I may just stay in and make my own.
Just as easy as almond milk to make (but no overnight soak, so really, it's even easier), ricotta is what happens when you boil milk, buttermilk, cream and some salt, and the curds rise to the top. It's so simple and tastes nothing like the store-bought kind. Creamy, fluffy and perfect for adding to a summer pasta dish. As I was waiting for the water to boil, I spread some ricotta on a piece of baguette, sprinkled a bit of sea salt on top and added a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh thyme -- this, I could have made a meal of (and almost did).
Now I'm wondering, what next? Herbs in my ricotta? What about ricotta with sheep's milk? Goat?
Stay tuned, everyone. I'm going to see Sandy the goat cheese man later this week for some milk from his herd.
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef, a North Texas gal living the good life in Paris. Read her blog and watch her cooking videos on www.cowgirlchef.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/cowgirlchef.
Fresh ricotta and tomato pasta
Makes 2 servings
8 ounces penne pasta
1 clove garlic, minced
Big pinch red pepper flakes
Few leaves of fresh basil, torn
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt and pepper
2 heaping tablespoons of homemade ricotta
1. Put your pasta water on to boil along with a big pinch of salt, and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.
2. In a large skillet, drizzle a little olive oil and add the garlic, red pepper flakes and basil. Turn the heat on medium-low and cook until you can smell the garlic. Add the tomatoes and let them slowly cook while the pasta’s cooking (you want them to soften, but not get mushy, so they don’t need to cook long). When the pasta’s ready, drain the pasta and add it to the skillet, toss together and serve in shallow bowls. Add a spoonful of homemade ricotta on top of each bowl of pasta, a bit more torn basil, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 602 calories, 18 grams fat, 93 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 35 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 27 percent of calories from fat.
Makes about 2 cups
1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup whipping cream
Big pinch of sea salt
1. Cut a piece of cheesecloth and lay it in a colander, set over a medium-size bowl.
2. Put the milk, buttermilk, whipping cream and salt in a large, heavy saucepan and turn the heat on medium-high. Stir every now and then so the milk doesn’t scorch on the bottom of the pan.
3. When it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and watch the curds come to the surface. With a slotted spoon, gently remove the curds and put them in the cheesecloth-lined colander nearby. They’ll continue to bubble up for about 5 minutes, then you can turn off the heat. Don’t squeeze your curds with the cheesecloth; rather, just let them drain for 15 minutes — and voilà — you’ve got ricotta. Remove the cheesecloth and put your ricotta in a plastic container and keep it in the fridge. It’s good for 2 days, so eat it quickly.
Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 95 calories, 7 grams fat, 4 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 29 milligrams cholesterol, 59 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber, 72 percent of calories from fat.
2 cups plain almonds (unsalted, and with skins on)
12 cups filtered or bottled water (this is best, but tap will also do)
1. Put the almonds in a bowl, cover them with a few cups of water, and let them soak for 8 hours or overnight.
2. Cut a piece of cheesecloth, lay it in a colander set over a large bowl, and put this next to your blender.
3. Pour off the almond water -- this process removes the bitterness that's in the skins -- and put the almonds in your blender, along with 6 cups of fresh water. Blend for a few minutes, then pour this through the cheesecloth-lined colander. Now, take the blended almonds and put them back in the blender and add 6 more cups of water and blend again. You may need to get another bowl for the cheesecloth/colander if the other one's full. Pour this through, and enjoy your almond milk -- in smoothies, in coffee or tea, or just on its own. It'll keep nicely in the fridge 3 or 4 days.
Nutritional analysis per 1-cup serving: 40 calories, 3 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 15 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 58 percent of calories from fat.
Almond crunch power cookies
1/2 cup almond slivers
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
11/2 cups quinoa flour
2 cups oatmeal (quick)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup almond milk
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup almond butter
2 tablespoons grape-seed oil
1/2 cup chopped dates, raisins or chocolate chips
1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees, and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Put the almonds and sunflower seeds on the cookie sheet and bake until they're toasted, about 15 minutes.
3. Turn up the heat in your oven to 375 degrees.
4. Whisk together the quinoa flour, oatmeal, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt.
5. In a small bowl, combine the vanilla, almond milk and honey.
6. Now, put it all together. In your mixing bowl, mix the almond butter with the grape-seed oil. Add the vanilla, milk and honey. Now, the dry ingredients: Fold in your almond slivers, sunflower seeds and chopped dates, raisins or chocolate chips. Spoon the cookie dough one large teaspoonful at a time onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned.
Nutritional analysis per cookie: 127 calories, 6 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, no cholesterol, 122 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 44 percent of calories from fat.