MAKE FRESH RICOTTA CHEESE IN YOUR KITCHEN

When I hear “I made it from scratch!” at a gathering, my first instinct is to assume it must have taken a lot of time to prepare the tasty-looking dish coming my way down the table. But I also think, “Oh, it must be extra good!”
Here’s where I’m going. Do you love ricotta cheese in lasagna, or spread on crostini toasts and topped with a drizzle of olive oil and savory delights for a quick appetizer? Make ricotta yourself! You can prepare it in your kitchen from start to finish in less than an hour “from scratch.” And, it IS extra good!
This isn’t a true Italian-made ricotta, but it’s an easy, delicious version. Just heat milk, cream and salt to boiling, add lemon juice or vinegar, then gather ’round the pot with your kids and watch it curdle. Within a half-hour of draining away the whey in a separate bowl, you’ll have a lovely ricotta with a light consistency and mild, sweet flavor for using in a favorite Italian recipe like lasagna, or for spreading on crackers and toast sliced from a baguette — a sure winner at a Superbowl party.

Homemade Ricotta
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
4 cups whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 cup heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar

To prepare sieve for draining:
Set a fine sieve or colander lined with a double thickness of cheesecloth over a deep bowl.

To prepare ricotta mixture:
Combine milk, cream and salt in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Watch carefully. Just as the mixture reaches a boil, turn off the heat, remove from burner and stir in the lemon juice. The mixture will separate and curdle. Let it set about a minute.
Pour into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and let the watery whey drain into the bowl.
Discard the liquid that drips through. Let the curds continue to drain for about 25 minutes, until cool. The longer it drains, the thicker the ricotta.
Spoon the ricotta out of the cheesecloth and use immediately, or refrigerate in a covered storage container until ready to use within five days.

MAKE BAKED APPLE RINGS AND MICROWAVE APPLESAUCE

 


Baked apple rings are a tasty and nutritious snack you can make in your own kitchen on a chilly fall day. We use zesty apples that friends share with us from their backyard trees, or we buy them at farmer’s markets and apple orchards.
The drying process concentrates the sweetness of the apples, making them an ideal snack food to grab between meals or to include with trail mix on a hike or bike ride. Enjoyable for adults and kids to make together, you also can turn any leftover raw end apple pieces into chunky applesauce in just minutes in the microwave.

BAKED APPLE RINGS
Makes about 50 rings depending on apple size
4 firm apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 250 F.

Prepare pans. Place wire cooling racks on two large baking trays. Or line two large baking trays with parchment paper.

An adult should core and cut the apples in 1/8-inch rings using a sharp knife or mandolin. There will be extra irregular-size pieces on the ends. Snack on them as you work, or save for making microwave applesauce (see recipe below).

In a shallow dish, stir together lemon juice and water. Set prepared baking trays on the counter by ingredients. Young kids will enjoy dipping each slice into the lemon mixture and setting them on a rack or parchment paper. Edges may overlap slightly.

Bake rings until dried with a leathery texture, about two hours. (If using parchment-paper-lined pans, an adult should flip the rings over after 1 hour and return to oven for additional hour.)

Remove from oven and enjoy! Cool before storing.

Extra idea: For added flavor, sprinkle a mixture of 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar over the rings before baking.

MICROWAVE CHUNKY APPLESAUCE
Makes 2 servings
2 cups apple chunks from cored apples of one or more varieties, peeled or unpeeled if you like (red peels may give your applesauce a nice rosy color)
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine ingredients in a deep microwave-safe bowl.

Cook, uncovered at full power for 5 minutes. Remove and stir well. Cook an additional 5 minutes.

Use a potato masher or whisk to mash and stir the apples into the liquid.
Cool and serve or refrigerate.

ARRANGE A PARTY CHEESE BOARD WITH KIDS

There are so many ways that kids can be part of daily meal prep, from setting the table or popping ice cubes into a pitcher of water to hulling fresh strawberries for dessert.
Routine jobs are important to family life, and new responsibilities can be introduced as kids grow and become more confident in their kitchen skills. It’s especially gratifying for kids when they can be part of the action when company comes.
If there’s an end-of-summer informal barbecue on your calendar, there are always extra to-dos, many of which are suited for young helpers, like arranging fresh fruit, cheese slices and other tasty and healthy nibbles on a cheese board for a delightful, trendy appetizer.
Kids are artistic by nature, so first give them an opportunity to take a visual tour with you in the kitchen to find out what healthy appetizer-type food items are on hand on pantry shelves, in the refrigerator and in the fruit bowl on the counter. They’ll no doubt be inspired by the rainbow of colors on the spectrum, from red cherry tomatoes to green olives and violet grapes.
Now it’s time for them to get creative.

BASIC FAMILY-FRIENDLY CHEESE BOARD

For young school-age kids, begin with a few foods that can go directly to a cheese board or platter with minimal fuss. Good choices are pre-sliced cheeses, nuts, olives, dried fruit, cold cuts like salami and clusters of washed grapes. Kids can line up the cheese or place a chunk of cheese at an angle with a cheese knife to the side. Put small piles of nuts near cheeses, line up cold cuts in rows, then fill in spaces with dried fruit, grapes, sweet cherries and berries. Pile a variety of crackers here and there.

If you have space, spoon prepared hummus into tiny bowls for spreading on crackers. Peanut butter, jelly and honey will make the selection even more kid-friendly. Add style with a few edible blooms, such as nasturtiums, or use a pretty silk flower or two.

As kids become more comfortable in the kitchen, teach them how to mix their own sweet and savory dips, slice vegetables and wrap breadsticks, pretzels or asparagus with cheese or meat.

Extra family fun: When guests arrive, your young child might like to play the role of a “waiter” and take orders from adults of their choices from the cheese board. They can assemble the “order” on a small plate and deliver it to the guest.