I’ve always admired people who cook even their kitchen basics from scratch. I make homemade bread on a weekly basis, but we also purchase loaves, burger buns, tortillas, etc regularly. There are people who make their own cereal, granola bars, yeast, and cream cheese! I admit some of these sound more appealing to me than others, but I love the idea of homemade wholesome foods without preservatives.
At the same time, I wouldn’t make everything from scratch even if I had no kids. You have to draw the line somewhere, and there are products that are significantly more time- and cost-efficient at the supermarket without a significant decrease in quality. But I want to try to increase the number of things I make from scratch.
I decided to try my hand at making homemade ricotta today, since everyone claims it’s incredibly simple. We’re having stuffed shells on Saturday, and it seemed like a fun way to improve the recipe.
What a disaster!
The basic steps are as such:
1. Line a medium colander with four layers of cheesecloth.
2. Bring a half-gallon of whole milk and one teaspoon salt to a simmer over medium-high heat.
3. Stir in three tablespoons of white vinegar. Simmer the milk until curds form, about one minute.
4. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds to the colander. Let them drain for a minute.
5. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl.
Sounds easy? Well, I got partway through step 2 before Pumpkin freaked out and started shrieking. She was in the Pack’n’Play in the kitchen next to me so I turned my back to the steaming milk on the stove to comfort her. She start to quiet down when I hear, from behind me, a quiet hissssss….. SIZZLE. Yup, the milk had boiled over. I rushed over to move it and tried to mop up the milk that had spilled on the stove before it all burned on, while Pumpkin resumed screaming with vigor. What a moment!
I let her scream for a few minutes while I tried to clean up a bit, which might not have been the best idea because the next thirty minutes were spent rocking her to calm her down and reassure her that mommy would indeed come when she cried. Not my best moment. 😦 We worry about making sure she develops secure attachments with us, since the first month in the NICU could have really disrupted her ability to bond. We try really had to avoid letting her cry on her own, because she becomes inconsolable very quickly if we’re not there to comfort her.
Eventually she fell asleep, and I returned to the kitchen to see if I could give it a second try. More cautious, now, I turned a new burner onto medium-low and then stood there, frustrated but afraid to leave it, as nothing happened.
Eight or ten minutes later, I gave in and turned the heat back to medium-high. Voila! A minute later, the milk was simmering. I added the vinegar and watched the curds form. It was like magic.
The whole thing was over maybe a minute later, and despite my difficulties with it I could understand how people might say it was quick and easy. But, looking now at the pros and cons…
1. If done right and given undivided attention for maybe ten minutes, it is quick and easy.
2. It’s homemade, so I can make it organic and with no added preservatives. I haven’t been able to find an organic ricotta that doesn’t have preservatives – seems like I have to choose between organic or no preservatives when I buy it.
1. It’s hard to find ten minutes of undivided attention with a baby around! Maybe if I only attempted this again when hubby was home…
2. It’s expensive! The cheesecloth was about a dollar, the milk was $3.69, and so I ended up spending almost five dollars for (here’s the kicker) 1 1/2 cups of ricotta! Store-bought organic ricotta costs about $5 for 2 1/2 cups, so it’s not even cheaper than buying from the store!
3. Even if it’s quick and easy, the yield is so small it’s really barely worth the work.
4. Cleanup. Ugh. If the milk hadn’t boiled over, I would still have to wash a pot, a spoon, a slotted spoon, and the colander. Since it did, there’s also all the burnt-on-milk on the outside of the pot and on the stovetop. Thank god it’s a glass stovetop, at least!
5. The final texture turned out kind of gummy and looks pretty unappealing. I tried it warm and thought it tasted pretty mediocre, too – we will see how it is once it’s been refrigerated.
In summary: not worth it. If the taste was exceptionally fresh and creamy, if it cost significantly less, if it didn’t require unbroken, undivided attention – then I would happily do it again. Given the amount of cleanup, though, it just doesn’t seem worth it. I think I will try again sometime to see if it comes out better if I do everything right the first time, but my suspicion is that this recipe is not a keeper for us.
Update: still tastes pretty mediocre, but cleanup was a lot easier than expected! The milk scrubbed right off the pot after I soaked it for an hour or so, and the stove wasn’t bad either. Like I said, I’d be willing to give it another shot.