Monthly Archives: November 2013

Homemade Goat Milk Ricotta

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goat milk

goat milk

One of the easiest cheeses to make at home (in my opinion) is ricotta.  It has a fresh, milky flavor.  A flavor that is hard to find in commercial, mass-produced brands.  And increasingly so, other ingredients are making their way into the commercially produced brands.  Examples of ‘other’ ingredients include: modified food starch, guar gum carrageenan, locust bean gum, and xanthan gum depending on the brand.  For that very reason, I have decided to make my own ricotta at home.  Fresh ricotta has just two ingredients: milk and an acid.  (The acid could be lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid.)  If you prefer for it to have a more pronounced flavor, salt may be added to your taste.

While ricotta is traditionally made from whey, you can also make it using milk.  The advantage of using milk is that you will have a higher yield of ricotta.  Now as far as the type of milk, or better stated, the type of animal… cow milk tends to be more common.  Though for the purpose of this recipe (and since I have access to it) goat milk is my milk of choice.

citric acid

citric acid

The recipe that I use is adapted from Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses by Ricky Carroll.

Whole-Milk Ricotta

  • 1/2 gallon goat milk
  • 3/4 tsp. citric acid dissolved in 1/4 C. cool water

Steps:

Use a heavy-bottom pot that holds at least 1 gallon (the milk will begin to foam up when it heats up).  Add milk to the pot and then place the pot on the stove over medium-high heat.  Add the citric acid/water mixture to the milk and stir thoroughly.   Stir frequently to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot.  Heat the milk mixture to 185F, being careful not to boil the milk.

When the mixture reaches 185F, immediately remove from heat.  The temperature will continue to rise from ‘carry over’ heat.   Allow the mixture to set for at least 15 minutes undisturbed to allow the curds to form and separate from the whey.

curds that have formed

curds that have formed

Line a colander with butter muslin and place the colander over a large pot (to catch the whey).  Ladle the curds into the colander and allow to drain for 20 – 30 minutes or until the ricotta reaches the desired consistency.  You may use the whey (liquid) in soups or stews or as the liquid when making bread or rolls.

Then remove the ricotta from the colander and place in a container with a lid, then refrigerate.  The cheese can be eaten immediately or it will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator (though it never lasts that long in our house).

curds draining in colander

curds draining in colander

If desired, you can add salt to taste after you remove the ricotta from the colander.  For a creamier texture you could stir in up to 2 tablespoons of cream.

Use your homemade ricotta just as you would with the store-bought kind.  Some of our favorite ways to use it include, but not limited to: stuffed shells, dolloped across the top of pizza prior to baking, lasagna, with fresh herbs mixed in and then spread over crackers, and a little stirred into polenta just after you take the pot off of the stove.  So friends, don’t be intimidated.  You really can make ricotta at home.

Happy eating!

How to Build a Cold Frame at Home

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cold frame with veggies

cold frame with veggies

Cold frames.  They are the workhorse of my garden.  Every year, they are pulled into service, both in the early spring and then again in the fall.  They alone, allow us to extend our growing season from late February – November (and sometimes into December) which is pretty darn good for living in USDA hardiness zone 5.

If you are new to gardening, a cold frame is a transparent roofed structure that is used to protect young plants from cold weather.  Place the cold frame on the ground in a sunny location with a southern exposure.  Tender young plants are protected from harsh winds and exposed to sunlight through the transparent roof, while the structure helps retain radiant heat to keep plants warm, similar to a greenhouse.

cold frame following a snow

cold frame following a snow

Building a cold frame requires basic carpentry skills and a short materials list. An inexpensive version can be constructed from items repurposed/recycled from previous home projects.

Materials:

  • old window or transparent sky light window with glass in tact
  • recycled cedar, cypress, or redwood
  • wood posts
  • door hinges (at least tw0 per cold frame)
  • screws

Tools:

  • screwdriver
  • saw

Remember to stay away from pressure treated wood or railroad ties.  They typically contain chemicals such as pentachlorophenol or creosote.  These chemicals release vapors that are toxic to plants.

When you build the cold frame, keep the size manageable.  The width and length are determined by the size of window or other transparent material which will be the roof.  For example, if your window is 2’ x 4’, the cold frame box will be 2’ wide and 4’ long.  For height, build the back of the cold frame 6” higher than the front.  This allows for water to run off the window, the roof, of your cold frame.  For northern climates, snow and ice will slide off as it melts.  If the front of the cold frame is 12” high, the back is 18” high, the overall dimension will be 2’W x 4’L x 12”D (front) and 18”D (back). Remember that you do not have to build a very tall structure.  You want to be able to comfortably reach into the cold frame to plant and harvest your cool season produce.

veggies following a snow

veggies following a snow

Cut two posts to 12” and two to 18”. They will be corners of your cold frame.  Next, cut your wood to  2’ and to 4’ lengths.  Screw the wood to the posts to form a 2’ x 4’ rectangle.   Slope the sides of the frame accordingly, using a saw.  Once the frame is constructed, lay the window on top.  Place the hinges on the back of the cold frame and window frame and screw into place on the high side (18″ side rather than the 12″ side).  By placing the hinges on the high side, you will be able to reach comfortably into the cold frame.

Congratulations!  Your cold frame is finished. Total construction time is approximately 20 – 30 minutes per cold frame.   You are now ready to set it into a garden bed.  (For maximum season extension, place in a location that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.)  Select cool season crops such as spinach and radishes which will perform much better in fall and late winter/early spring weather.

By gathering a few materials and possessing basic carpentry skills, you too, can build your own cold frame(s) at home.

Green Tomato Wine 101

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Green Tomato Wine 101
green tomatoes being washed with sanitizer

green tomatoes being washed with sanitizer

At the end of harvest season, gardeners typically make one last harvest before the first freeze.  One item that folks generally end up with is green tomatoes.  Now there are a variety of things you can do with green tomatoes: make chutney, fried green tomatoes, mock apple pie, or simply store the tomatoes and let them ripen.  But for a unique twist on ‘what to do’ with green tomatoes, think Green Tomato Wine.

Making wine from green tomatoes is pretty straight forward.  Even if you haven’t made wine before, the steps are pretty basic and easy to follow.

Green Tomato Wine Recipe

  • 12 lbs. green tomatoes
  • 8 lbs. sugar
  • 2 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 10 lemons, juiced
  • 3 campden tablets
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
  • 6 lbs. grapes
  • 1 1/2 oz. fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 1/2 gallons distilled water
  • 1 package fruit wine yeast
mesh bag and fermentation bucket

mesh bag and fermentation bucket

Tools Needed

  • Fermentation bucket with lid
  • Mesh bag, large enough to hold tomatoes
  • Airlock
  • Stock pot large enough to hold 2 1/2 gallons of water and the 8 lbs. of sugar (we used a 12 quart pot)
  • Small cutting board
  • Food Grade gloves
  • Large spoon for stock pot
  • Food Grade Sanitizer, such as Star San
  • Food Grade Cleaner, such as Five Star PBW
  • Siphon tube
  • Carboy

Gather tools needed.  If you have a home brew store in your community, they should carry all of the needed tools.  If not, do a web search for ‘making wine at home’.  There are many online vendors to choose from.  Once you have gathered all of the tools, clean them (except for siphon tube and carboy… those will be dealt with later) all using the Five Star PBW.  Follow directions on the container.  After tools have been cleaned, sterilize tools using the Star San.  Follow directions on the label.

grapes washed with sanitizer

grapes washed with sanitizer

Fill sink with water and add 1 tsp. of Star San.  Next, add the tomatoes, grapes and wash thoroughly.  Trim off any bruises or damaged areas on the tomatoes and remove the stems.   Remove stems from grapes

Place mesh bag in the fermentation bucket.  Drape the top of the bag over the rim of the bucket so the bag forms a pouch inside the bucket.  Crush one campden tablet and add to mesh bag. After the tomatoes have been cleaned and trimmed, coarsely chop.  Add half of the tomatoes and grapes, then add another crushed campden tablet to the bag.  Repeat with remaining tomatoes, grapes, all of the ginger, and final tablet.

bring water to boil

bring water to boil

Pour water into stock pot.  Bring to a boil.  Once the water is boiling, remove from heat then add sugar.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  After the sugar is dissolved then pour the water/sugar mixture into the fermentation bucket.

Add juice of lemons to the fermentation bucket.

Wearing the gloves, squeeze the mesh bag inside the fermentation bucket, thoroughly mixing the fruit.

Sprinkle onto the fruit/water mixture the yeast nutrient and the pectic enzyme.  Stir with spoon to thoroughly combine.  Check the liquid volume inside the fermentation container (will be marks on the outside of the bucket).  If the liquid volume is not at 3 gallons, add enough water to bring it up to that point.

Tie a loose knot in the top of the mesh bag.  This will keep all of the fruit inside the bag.  Put the lid on the fermentation bucket.  Allow the mixture to sit for at least one day.  Then remove the lid.

Now you are ready to add the yeast.  (Get yeast which is specific for fruit wine.  DO NOT use baker’s yeast!   In this case we used EC-1118 Lalvin brand yeast.)  Follow directions on yeast packet for adding yeast to warm water to ‘bloom’.  After the yeast has bloomed, pour into the fermentation bucket.  Place lid on the bucket and add the airlock to the hole in the lid.

Once you have added the yeast, you have officially created alcohol!  The mixture will ferment and this is indicated by the bubbles that appear in the airlock.  Each day, remove the lid and stir the mixture.  After stirring, replace the lid.

fruit in mesh bag inside fermentation bucket

fruit in mesh bag inside fermentation bucket

On day six, remove the mesh bag and all fruit within the bag.  Squeeze the bag to extract as much liquid as possible into the fermentation bucket.  (It is okay if there are a few bits of pulp.)

Clean and sterilize a siphon tube and carboy following directions on the Five Star PBW and Star San container.

Elevate the fermentation bucket so it is higher than the carboy.  Place one end of the siphon tube in the fermentation bucket and the other end into the carboy and start the siphon process.  After the developing wine has been transferred from the fermentation bucket to the carboy, add an airlock to the top of the carboy.

Now let the developing wine sit in the carboy for three months.  At the end of the third month, transfer to another carboy which has been cleaned and sterilized.  Elevate the carboy with the wine so it is higher than the empty carboy.   Place one end of the siphon tube in the carboy with wine and the other end in the empty carboy and start the siphon process.  Note: do not place the end of the siphon tube so it is in the sediment of the full carboy.  This sediment is fruit pulp and yeast.  Do not transfer that to the empty carboy.  The idea is that you want a clear, not cloudy wine.  After the transfer is complete, top the carboy with an airlock.

Repeat this transfer process three more times at three month intervals.  NOTE: before transferring the wine from one carboy to the next, remember to clean and sterilize the siphon tube and carboy.

elevated carboy with siphon tube

elevated carboy with siphon tube

Now you are ready to bottle your wine.  For a three gallon batch of wine, you will need approximately eighteen bottles.  You can either save wine bottles or buy new bottles from a home brew store or order online.  If a store carries bottles, they will also carry corks.  Corks are generally sold in packages instead of individually.  Buy enough packages that you will have a few more corks than bottles (just in case there is a bad cork).

To ensure cleanliness, we sterilize the bottles, corks, siphoning tube, and nitrile gloves that we wear.  After all the time spent aging, you don’t want to risk contaminating the wine with dirty equipment.  There are many sterilizing agents on the market.   We use Star San.  Follow the manufacturer’s directions provided on the container.  We use a liquid concentrate and that is poured to a large bucket.  Next, the required amount of water is added along with the items we wish to sterilize.

To transfer the wine into bottles, set up the carboy with a siphon tube placed into the neck of a wine bottles.  Make sure that the carboy is elevated above the bottle as this will ensure proper draining.  Be sure to have your next empty bottle waiting as the wine level reaches the bottom of the neck of the bottle you are currently filling.  Lift the siphon and place it into the empty bottle.  Set aside the newly filled bottle and grab your next empty.  Believe me, this process is much simpler than it sounds.  Usually, we treat this as a one-man process.  After all of the wine has been siphoned into bottles, it is now time to move onto the corker!

corking a wine

corking a wine

Now while very few people have their very own corker, local home brew stores carry them.  You can either buy or rent.  We generally go with a one-day rental.  If you have never used one, ask a store employee for a quick tutorial.  A corker is pretty easy to use.

Now go ahead and cork your bottles. And folks, that is it.  Making green tomato wine from scratch is not hard to do.  With good ingredients and patience you can be enjoying your own wine of your making in just a little over a year.   Believe me, this is time well spent.

This recipe makes 3 gallons of wine which is approximately 18 standard wine bottles.