Italy Meets Boulder: Week in Photo Review

Our focus in school this week was Italian cuisine. And my thousand words wouldn’t begin to do justice to the exquisite simplicity of Italian food and wine. So peruse a few pictures… and buon appetito.

Bruschetta in the making: grilled toasts waiting to be topped with heirloom tomatoes, olive oil and fresh herbs.

One fantastic cannoli recipe…

Fresh pasta in progress.

Feeling the love of making fresh mozzarella…

Bread proofed under a basket lending an old world charm to this textured loaf

Coconut panna cotta, guava gelee, and blood orange sorbet topped with a splash of limoncello

And back to Boulder… granola made for tomorrow’s hike with classmates.

Cheers to la dolce vita~

 

Food: Six Steps to Eating More Sustainably

I must admit as I begin this post that I’ve debated on exactly how to approach the subject of eating sustainably without loosing most readers within the first line. This seems to be an issue which evokes a full spectrum of responses: red hot passion on one end, and a complete laissez-faire response on the other. If you fall in the latter, thank you for making it through an entire paragraph.

And wherever you fall in the spectrum, I’m simply hoping this post will make you think. If it  provokes you to learn more, educate someone else, or change something small about the way you live, then that’s even better.

One short definition to get us on the same page, and then six simple changes you can make. Choose all six. Or choose one. Or just choose to become more aware…

Sustainable agriculture involves food production methods that are healthy, do not harm the environment, respect workers, are humane to animals, provide fair wages to farmers, and support farming communities.” This quote is taken directly from SustainableTable.org, an incredible resource for education on eating and living more sustainably.

1. Plant a garden. It can be huge or it can be tiny. I live in a 600sqft condo and my patio is full of pots just waiting for the last frost to pass. Find a Community garden or a neighbor with a garden and offer to help. This is as fresh and local as it can get.

2. Support your local CSA. Fresh food for you while supporting local farmers and building community: to learn more about Community Supported Agriculture read this. To find a CSA near you check out this Department of Agriculture page.

3. Visit and buy products from local Farmers Markets. Many markets offer not only local fruits and vegetables, but also surprisingly affordable partial animal purchases, fresh eggs, and dairy products that are produced sustainably. Find a farmers market near you with this easy search tool.

4. Dine and shop sustainably. It’s easier than ever to find stores that sell and restaurants that serve food that has been grown or raised with sustainable methods. Click here and simply enter your zip code. By choosing to support these vendors, you are in essence casting your vote to maintain sustainable food for all of us.

5. Read labels and ask questions. Begin to discover what you’re eating, where it comes from, and how it is produced. Unfortunately, an organic label or picture of a happy farm on a food package does not necessarily equate to wholesomeness. Learn what to ask here and how to shop here.

6. Watch a movie or read a book about the actual state of food in our nation. After watching Food, Inc last week in class, I cried on the drive home. And have several times since. But that’s exactly why I’m compelled to sneak this post in between the fresh pastas and close-up cookie shots. This truly matters. Food, Inc is available on Netflix and is about ninety minutes. The Meatrix is a bit hokey, but has a good message and can be seen in less than four minutes by clicking here. Any book by Michael Pollan, such as The Omnivore’s Delimma or In Defense of Food, will make you think.

And thinking is the first step. Think. Act. Enable change.

Simple and Fun: Make Your Own Ricotta Cheese

If someone told me that four ingredients and about thirty minutes in the kitchen would yield my very first homemade cheese, I’m not sure I would have believed them. Until yesterday.

Though our Culinary training at Escoffier is based on French technique, this week is an exploration of all things from Italia, and I’m in absolute heaven. Not just for the Ricotta and Ricotta Salada that I’ll share today, but also for the fresh pasta, potato gnocchi, bruschetta, polenta, biscotti, cannoli… the list is lengthening so quickly I’m literally overwhelmed.

Italians are the masters of slow food, simple food, local food, sustainable food… using restraint in the kitchen in such a way that the ingredient itself shines; growing produce and raising animals in a manner that is ethically sound, actually beneficial to the earth, and planet-sustainable for generation after generation.

And I’m sure every country- Italia included- has its share of ethical food challenges. But we have so much room for improvement here in the states… I’ll devote many posts to this in the future, but I hope this will plant seeds of thought in the meantime. And I want to show you cheese!

This is an incredibly simple way to make your first homemade cheese. For cheese making experts, this is not a strictly traditional Ricotta, but it’s pretty close for a home cook. And if it will bring even one of you into the kitchen to make fresh cheese with me… then it’s a win in my book.

Simple Homemade Ricotta Cheese

yield about one pound; active time less than 30 min

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon milk (about 3.75 L)- try to find milk that isn’t ultra-pasteurized
  • 1 quart buttermilk (about 950 mL)
  • juice from half a lemon
  • salt to taste

Method

1. Heat milk in a large pot just until bubbles begin to form around the edges

2. Add the buttermilk and lemon juice and bring to a simmer, stirring gently and occasionally. You will notice the solid curds separating from the liquid whey.

3. Once you’ve reached a simmer, remove from heat and cover for 15 minutes.

4. Gently pour the mixture through a strainer or colander lined with a few layers of cheesecloth. You will have curds remaining in the cheesecloth, and whey liquid strained out.

Note: save your whey liquid- it’s packed with incredible protein and can be used as a base for smoothies, to substitute for the water in making bread to create a healthier loaf- try this easy Basic French Bread, or chilled for a protein-rich breakfast drink. I love it straight, but you could definitely add a little honey if you prefer.

Tie your cloth of curds into a bundle and hang over a small pan in the refrigerator to continue draining for a few hours. Season to taste with salt and you have a moist, homemade Ricotta cheese. This is incredible as is, and can also be mixed with herbs for sandwich spreads, ravioli filling, added to salads… or sweetened and used is dessert applications.

To turn your fresh Ricotta into Ricotta Salada, simply let it continue to drain refrigerated in the cheesecloth unit it becomes crumbly and dry. Ricotta Salada can be substituted anywhere you’d use a dry, crumbly cheese.

Give it a try, and let me know if your friends and neighbors don’t love you more than they already do. Buon appetito, cheese makers~

Roasted Acorn Squash and Cherry Berry Buckwheat Granola, not necessarily together

Before I began this blog, I must admit that I wasn’t much of a blog reader. Sometimes in recipe or ingredient searches I’d stumble upon a blog or two, but that was about the extent of it. But I’ve realized that I am learning so much from fellow bloggers these days… on writing, recipes, photography, and just about life itself. The community is actually quite fun!

One of my favorite blog sites, Cook To Love, continually pushes me out of my kitchen comfort zone as Laura is a gluten-free cook. It makes me thankful that I can tolerate gluten just fine, but it also motivates me to learn how to adjust recipes for those who can’t. And many of her recipes are so tempting that I don’t think I’ll miss the gluten anyway. I also owe a thank you to Laura for nominating me for the Liebster Blog award as well- vey much appreciated!

 

This recipe of Laura’s inspired my lunch of roasted acorn squash with olive oil and fresh thyme the other day. I didn’t have every ingredient she did and I wanted to avoid a trip the the store, but the motivation was there. Believe me- my Maman would attest that me willingly eating nothing but squash for a meal is definitely a departure from the norm. And I loved it.

Roasted Acorn Squash

  • Peel, seed, and cut squash into similar sized pieces.
  • Toss in extra virgin olive oil, thyme, and sprinkle with Kosher salt.
  • Roast at 375F on a sheet pan, stirring occasionally, until brown and tender, 20-30 minutes depending on size.
  • I roasted the seeds as well for a crunchy snack… but they’ll be finished well before the rest of the squash, so remove them early.

One of Laura’s recent posts is a Cherry Berry Buckwheat Granola that I have assembled the ingredients to try. I’ve made plenty of granola, but this one has so many unique components that I can’t resist giving it a go. Visit here to check out her recipe and a photo that will make even non-granolas hungry.

My granola of the past, that is anxiously awaiting its upgrade…

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes and a Thank You

Today gave me an excuse to make cupcakes. And I love making cupcakes. Excuse, you wonder? You’re exactly right… since when have I needed an excuse to bake anything? But the motivation for these treats was especially tempting- a birthday. A birthday for twins, actually, so that made it doubly fun.

These Chocolate Stout Cupcakes are made with rich dark molasses, orange juice and zest, nutmeg, cinnamon and… a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Jam-packed with flavor but not too sweet. The icing is a 77% cocoa dark chocolate lightened with whipped egg whites. And just a tiny bit of butter. Tiny.

TinyKitchenStories, a fellow blogger, posted these cupcakes in early February, and I’ve been waiting for a legitimate reason to bake them ever since. She gives a detailed recipe description that’s easy to follow, and her witty writing style will entertain you as you cook. Check out her recipe, and gorgeous cupcake photos here.

And thank you TinyKitchenStories for my second nomination for the Kreativ/Versatile Blogger Award. I am so creative that I could not come up with seven additional interesting facts about myself, a requirement for accepting the award. The first seven were borderline painful. We might argue that I’m actually not deserving. Or interesting. But that aside, if you missed the original seven deb facts and really, really want to read them, then first– promise me you won’t be disappointed or vow not to tell me if you are, and second– click here.

So go pop the top on that Stout and get busy in the kitchen. Or just enjoy the Stout and dream of cupcakes…