Hot Herb Garlic Ricotta Dip

Do you see a milk theme in my last couple of posts? Yes, well, I don't remember the exact details but I had a surplus of milk back in the spring and tried a bunch of new recipes to use it up. I have held back until now because the recipes and pictures were being published. Well, finally that has happened and they are mine again and I can share as I wish.

Ricotta has way fewer calories than cream cheese. No guilt enjoying this cheesy spread!

I posted a few years ago about making ricotta cheese at home. Nothing could be easier and I thought a refresher would be in order. One thing I have learned over time is that if you strain your milk vinegar mixture and get a lot of whey and it appears to be very milky then simply add more vinegar and let it sit longer. The curds will come but the milk may need more acid.

Homemade ricotta is fresher and half the price of the ricotta I can buy at my grocery stores. I always make it now but one does need to plan ahead.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
I like my curds dry so I let it strain overnight in the refrigerator. Planning ahead is required.

8 c. whole milk
2 tbsp. white vinegar
Bring the milk to just scalding temperature and turn off the heat. You can tell when it has reached scalding because there will be little bubbles in the milk around the inside of the pot.
Stir in vinegar. Put lid on and let sit for an hour. Carefully strain the clotted curds through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. 

Hot Herb Garlic Ricotta Dip

8 oz. fresh ricotta
olive oil
fresh herbs such as rosemary or oregano
sea salt, to taste
In a small ovenproof skillet, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom over medium heat. Add a few cloves of sliced garlic and cook until fragrant and just beginning to color, then immediately top with a layer of ricotta about an inch thick. Drizzle generously with olive oil. Bake in a 375 F oven until bubbling on top, about 20 minutes. Top with finely chopped herbs and sea salt. Serve immediately with toasted baguette slices. (Adapted from Bon Appetit)



It does take a certain level of om to make a lovely yet simple meal. Try throwing vegetables together when you are harried and it doesn't yield the same results. I know that from a meal I made last week. I can count on one hand the number of friends that have visited me in the five years since I moved away. That alone should provide motivation to make a nice meal when dear friends drop in on their way across Canada.

Farmers' market season is officially over for me even though next week is the final market of the year. After making over 2,000 scones 'a mano' this summer I hang up my apron until next June. What begins as a meditation and therapy gradually becomes a chore that brings on near nausea and loathing by the end of the season.

Even making a simple and enjoyable meal takes on a feeling of apathy that you want to fight but at the same time are helpless to resist. Such is the end of market season. Thank heaven that all things end and there is new.

Chatting with another vendor today told me that she feels the same. However, we both agreed that being a farmers' market vendor is like having a case of retrograde amnesia. The winter gestation is greeted with expectations of newness every spring. The anticipation is so strong that we plan and replan our new ideas until they can come to fruition and greeted again by the wonderfully appreciative market goers. I must say that I am impressed how many people take the time to thank me for what I do. I cherish that.


Italian Cheesecake

At the risk of making enemies I am not a cheesecake fan. I find the traditional New York style far too rich for my liking. And the unbaked type, well, they don't even count in my books. But this Italian style is delicious. It is not overly rich and has delicate floral undertones with the golden raisins nicely complimented by the dark rum.

Carefully bake this in a bain marie or it may separate. If you are not familiar, a bain marie is a water bath. Use something like a roasting pan that is larger than the cake pan. Fill roasting pan with boiling water until it reaches the same level as the cheesecake mixture. When finished baking remove from oven and let cheesecake cool slowly in the water bath.

Italian Cheesecake        Adapted from Lidia’s Italy in America

2 tbsp. softened butter
1/2 c. ladyfinger crumbs
1/2 c. golden raisins
3 tbsp. dark rum
5 large eggs
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 c. drained fresh ricotta, at room temperature
1 c. mascarpone, at room temperature
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 c. toasted pine nuts 

Preheat oven to 325 F . Brush a nine or ten inch springform pan with butter on the bottom and sides. Place a circle of parchment paper on the bottom. Butter the parchment paper. Coat bottom and sides with ladyfinger crumbs. Excess can stay on the bottom of the pan. Put raisins in a small bowl and pour rum over, let soak while making the filling.

In a mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat eggs, sugar and salt at high speed until foamy and the sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy, about 2 minutes. Puree ricotta, mascarpone and zests and add to mixer. Drain raisins, set aside and add leftover rum to the mixer, mix on medium until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Fold in raisins and pinenuts by hand.

Put springform pan in the bain marie, smoothing the top with a spatula. 

Place on the lowest rack in the oven and bake until edges are set and golden but the centre is still a bit jiggly, about 1 hour.  It will continue to cook as it cools. Cool completely before cutting and serving. Serves 10 – 12 persons.

Oven Baked French Toast

Brunch is one of my favourite meals but one I rarely partake in. I found a Christmas pannetone in my cold room, long past its prime freshness. A dry bread or sweet bread is best for this overnight French toast. The bread soaks up some of the eggy goodness and then it bakes up like a souffle. If you want a nice presentation quickly take it straight from the oven to the table. After even 15 minutes it has fallen.

I bought the reproduction Medalta Pottery casserole dish and was dying to try it. Next time I would use a more shallow baking dish. It will cook faster and you will have a higher ratio of crunchy topping. The pecan crunchy topping drizzled with maple syrup should not be omitted.

Baked French Toast

Butter, for greasing the pan
8 eggs
5 cups whole milk
1/2 c. sugar
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
Day old bread such as French bread, cinnamon buns, brioche
1/2 c. walnuts or pecans
1/4 c. maple syrup

Generously grease a 9”x13” pan with butter. Tear bread into chunks or cut into cubes and evenly distribute in the pan. Use enough bread to completely fill the pan. Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla. If you are using an unsweetened bread you may want to increase the sugar.

Cover pan tightly and store in refrigerator, overnight preferably.

Top with coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans and a drizzle of maple syrup. Preheat oven to 350F and bake for 45 minutes. Serve hot out of the oven with more maple syrup and fresh berries.


Indian Summer and thinking about Tennessee

As Indian Summer has arrived the nights are chilly but the days very hot. It's the time to clean up the garden and beds and prepare for the winter ahead. I can't help but think of my time in Tennessee at this time of year especially. I miss it.

The diversity of plants in the Smoky Mountains is hardly surpassed throughout the country. Every season has a display and there is no better time to visit than autumn. As it is diverse in plant species it is diverse in elevation. I drove into the Smokies in November to witness this array of colours. The mountains are so high that at the top I was barely travelling at 15 mph. The fog was thick and the road switching higher all the time.
There are 1600 species of flowering plants alone, including 100 native trees and over 100 shrubs.  There are 450 varieties of bryophytes which are the mosses, liverworts and hornworts and 50 ferns.

I miss the Smokies and forever thankful I had the opportunity to spend a few months in the South.


French Onion Soup for the Soul

You can see a pattern here. I am gradually coming back to my blog. More importantly as the season of the market ends I can come back to your blogs. You and I cannot imagine the work it is to be a farmers' market vendor. I am definitely making changes for next summer. First of all I will purchase another freezer. Since I make my doughs in advance and freeze them the extra storage space will allow me to make in advance so I can take a week off from preparation from time to time and have a life. The other item I am purchasing is a commercial mixer. To date everything has been mixed by hand ... breads, scones, pies. Granted everything cannot be done in a mixer but if I can even do half it will be a huge boost to my ever so tired arms and hands.

I loved this soup. It was inspired by a recipe from Chef Micheal Smith. I love my little Le Creuset individual cast iron pots. They make dinner service a classy event.

It's cooling down out there and warm food is coming into favour.

French onion soup
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 c. brandy or fortified wine such as Madeira
4 c. chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 slices hearty bread or large croutons
2 c. shredded Swiss, Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese

Caramelize onions until they are a deep golden colour. Add brandy. Turn up the heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the additional liquid has evaporated.
Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme leaves, season with salt and pepper and continue cooking for 15 minutes or so.
To serve, preheat the broiler in your oven. Toast the bread slices to add flavour and help absorb the soup. Cut rounds out of the toast, large enough to fit your soup bowls.
Ladle the soup into four ovenproof serving bowls. Top each with a slice or two of toasted bread rounds, enough to cover the top of the soup. Cover the bread with an even mound of shredded cheese. Broil until the cheese has melted and browned. (Adapted from Chef Michael Smith)