Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Further Adventures in Cheese

I didn't mention this in my last post, but the primary reason that I made that lemon basil ricotta cheese was so that I could eventually use it in the creation of stuffed shells. And not just any stuffed shells, dear readers, but Lemon Basil Ricotta Stuffed Shells in Champagne Cream Sauce. It sounds fancy because it is! I used the recipe I found on Simply Scratch, and the results were pretty good. Here are some pictures of the process:

Cooking shells while trying to make sauce 

Shells in sauce 

Shells in sauce with parmesan 

Shells in sauce with parmesan after baking 

Close-up shot 


Overall, I'd say the shells were a success. Although I do think the sauce was a little too champagne-y. I don't think enough of the alcohol cooked off. Also, this is a recipe that really benefits from having either a sous chef or the foresight to measure out all your ingredients before you start. I tend to do it as I go, but especially when making the sauce, I really needed everything to be ready. I was all alone, trying to whisk constantly, and then I had to stop whisking to open my bottle of champagne and measure things. And this was a very complicated bottle of champagne! I didn't get a picture; just take my word for it.

Anyway, there you have it. The real gem of this dish was the cheese. I'll definitely be making that again. The sauce was a bit heavy, but I might give it another go sometime. And to keep this from becoming exclusively a food blog, maybe I'll write about something non-culinary next time. Cheers!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Self-Reflection and Cheese

Today I realized something about myself. I really enjoy cooking (I already knew this), but I think the reason for that boils down to three primary factors:
  1. I love to eat.
  2. I love making things (not just food, but crafting, in general).
  3. I love praise. 
This last is a big inspiration for me when it comes to cooking. If I were just cooking for myself I could satisfy the first two loves, but I would be missing that all-important third factor. So I share my creations with friends and family, thereby satisfying my need for positive reinforcement. To that end, today, I made cheese! 

Cheese is surprisingly easy to make, as long as you're not hoping to end up with an aged cheddar or an authentic Italian parmesan. Easy cheese is soft and spreadable, like a ricotta, which is what I made today. And despite being pretty simple to execute, I'm quite proud of the result. 

I got this recipe from the Internet, so if you would like to recreate it, I suggest you follow this link. But for the more casual cooking enthusiast, here is a brief summary of what I did. 

First, I put a gallon of whole milk into a big pot and slowly heated it up to 185˚F, stirring frequently to keep the milk from scalding. This was also a great opportunity to finally use that candy thermometer I bought three years ago. I still haven't made candy with it, but it conveniently hooks onto the side of the pot so you can monitor the temperature as you go. 

Once the milk reached the desired temperature, I removed it from the heat and added 2/3 cup lemon juice. I used a combination of fresh and bottled. I don't think it really matters, all you really want is the acid. I guess if you can tell a flavor difference, bully for you. I then left the lemon and milk mixture undisturbed for 25 minutes, during which time I minced some basil. Once the milk was all curdled from the citric acid, I strained it through some cheese cloth. That's what it's named for, apparently! 

After it was all strained, I mixed in salt, pepper, and the zest of two lemons (hence the portion of fresh lemon juice). I then separated my cheese into two containers, one of which remained plain, while the other got the minced basil (because my dad doesn't like basil, and I didn't want him to miss out on the lemon ricotta). 

Here's the end result (with a copy of Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day in the background for artistry): 

Then I had to refrigerate it for a couple of hours; but when it was ready, my parents and three of my friends tasted it and gave me that sweet sweet praise I crave even more than I crave delicious lemon basil ricotta cheese. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A spam-related post!

Hey there, dear readers. My attempts at getting back into blogging seem to have stymied. But now I'm back, with an awesome bit of spam! This is gonna get super meta. Prepare yourselves!

Yesterday I was checking to see if there were any new comments here on the blog. And this is what I found:

First of all, it was posted by a "person" named "get pregnant after miscarriage." That right there is bizarre and a bit uncomfortable. But then you think, "I wonder what get pregnant after miscarriage wants to say on my blog. Probably something about mothers and the miracle of life. Hey, I might get some insight here!" Here's what gpam had to say:
Shoes are often one of the most overlooked components in a wardrobe. But shoes can be one of the best ways to add a little bit of zest to an outfit. While shoes started out as a practical foot covering, they have evolved into fashion statements. 

Wow. Good point, gpam!!  So often I overlook, not only shoes, but the fact that they are part of fashion. Usually I just wrap plastic grocery bags around my feet before I leave the house, but thanks to this insightful comment on my blog, I now know that shoes have evolved and I can actually wear them in order to accessorize an outfit.

Oh, and what blog post was this appended to? Actually somewhat appropriately, it was on another post about amusing electronic correspondence. Check it out. And then go leave a non sequitur comment somewhere.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The jnd and Diet Mojitos!

July saw the debut of an exciting new project by a group of very talented people I am honored to know personally. The jnd, which stands for "just noticeably different," is an artist collaborative consisting primarily of Julie Slonecki, Kenny Sharpless, Billy Green, and Vanessa Ndege, four Washington and Lee University graduates who want to build a community for musicians and artists to share contacts, experience, and knowledge. To that end, they are producing their own art, music, and designs, which they will use to promote further artistic collaboration.

Their first release is a collection of eight tracks, featuring very listenable electronic instrumental music, with influences in hip-hop and blues. These tracks highlight the members' own creative interests, which they hope will inspire other musicians and artists to further develop what they've begun. In addition, Sharpless and Slonecki are currently working on solo projects due out in the fall.

I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next, and I can tell you from personal experience that these people are cool as hell. Take a listen to "Dance to a song," which features some great sampling of the Beatles. You owe it to yourself.

You can check out more from The jnd on Facebook, Twitter, and SoundCloud.

And what better way to enjoy this awesome new music than with diet mojitos? That's right, my friends. Thanks to Crystal Light and my mother, I have discovered a fantastic new potent potable.

Crystal Light (I swear I'm not buzz-marketing) has recently started making a series of "mocktail"-flavored drink mixes, including margarita and mojito. Add a little booze and you're in business! Assuming your business is drinking sugary alcoholic beverages. To each his own.

Here's how we did it:

1 package Crystal Light mojito mix
1 1/2 cups light rum (I suppose you could use less, but why would you want to?)
2 cups Sprite Zero (these are diet mojitos, remember)
2 limes
~ 2 1/2 cups water (to taste)

Serve over ice. Preferably in crazy bent glasses. Fan-frickin'-tastic.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

No one could say the flight was boring

I'm back in the United States, dear readers, and it is very hot. Go figure. I returned via a 9-hour flight on Saturday, and boy, was it eventful!

My parents and I had great bulkhead seats that we paid extra for. We were on an exit row, so we had those seats next to the bathroom with all the open space right in front of us and the exit door just in front and to the right. The area in front of these seats is where people congregate to wait for the bathroom, but all the leg room makes up for that slight inconvenience. Or so we thought.

So about halfway through this flight, I am watching a movie in the center seat, while my father watches a movie in his aisle seat and my mother is asleep next to the window. I glance up and happen to notice a woman waiting for the bathroom who is leaning on the exit door, appearing to intently look out the window. I made note of this because I remember thinking, "Hmm, I wonder what the view's like," and then I went back to being fully engrossed in my movie. So engrossed, in fact, that I had noise-canceling headphones and couldn't hear anything else around me. Well, after awhile, this woman, still bending over toward the window, starts moving her feet around and getting in my personal space a bit. I glance disapprovingly at her, but try to ignore it. I also make eye-contact with another woman waiting for the bathroom, but at this point, I don't think anything is amiss, except that maybe this woman doesn't have great spatial awareness. But then, she steps on my mother's foot, which awakens her from her nap.

At first my mother looks confused and disoriented, wondering what woke her. Then she looks at this woman, says nothing, but begins pointing with a look of abject horror on her face. Up until this moment, dear reader, my lack of interest in this woman and the positioning of her body kept me from seeing what was happening, but now I see what my mom sees: that this woman has vomited ALL OVER the exit door. Now that's bad enough, certainly, but it gets worse, because moments after my mothers awakens and sees what has happened, this very sick woman faints into her lap. Now, for those of you who are concerned, let me say that none of the vomit got on any member of my family. But now my mother has an unconscious, sick woman sitting on her.

I rush to the back of the plane to get a flight attendant, who has already been informed of the situation but still takes an amazing amount of time to come save us. When the flight attendant does come and escort the woman to the back of the plane, my mother immediately bolts to the section in front of us. We don't see her for a long time after that.

The flight attendant promises my dad and me that someone is coming to clean it up presently, but I end up sitting next to vomit for waaaay longer than I would like. Eventually, he comes back and suggests we move while they deal with the situation, so my dad moves a few rows back to an empty seat near a young English couple, while I move into a seat next to a lovely grandmother from near Stratford-upon-Avon and her infant granddaughter. I will spare you the details of these people's lives, but I will say that I had a very nice time chatting with her, despite the circumstances that drove me to sit next to her.

Eventually, the area is cleaned and we are assured that it is safe to return to our seats. My mother has still not reappeared, so we assume she also found somewhere to sit. We later come to find out that she got to sit in business class. She would.

For the rest of the flight, the area around our seats continues to smell of vomit, but, I am ashamed to say, I grew accustomed to it. They offered to let us move permanently, but we were all settled in and that leg room was too good to give up. The sacrifices we make.

Oh, also, while we were waiting for our seats to be habitable again, my dad informed me that another woman about seven rows back had also started vomiting, but into a bag. Given that we have not had any turbulence, I began to fear that we were in an episode of House in which the entire plane falls ill, but as far as I know, only those two women were affected.

So there you have it, dear reader. Not something you ever expect to happen to you on a trans-Atlantic flight, but the truth is, when all is said and done, the idea of a woman puking on the exit door and then fainting on my mother is funny as hell.