Cheese crackers

I love cheese. So much. Especially cheddar. I grew up abroad and our every day cheese was gouda. To this day I could take it or leave it. Every once in while when I was little, either as a splurge or because we were stateside, I had cheddar cheese. I am confident I could eat it by the brick, and I often do.

Cheese crackers ingredients

String cheese, Gruyere, Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar (sharp and regular), and Monterrey jack can all be currently found in my fridge. Little loves cheese too and tugs on my leg whenever he sees me eating it. We sit on the floor facing each other sharing bites. It warms my heart he shares my obsession with it.

I also love all things with cheese in them- crackers, bread, casseroles. And again so does Little. However, I am trying to feed him only whole foods (no refined sugar, white flour, processed crap I can’t pronounce). I fail on the white flour and sugar but when he does get it he doesn’t get much. Rarely does he get anything that comes out of a package and has a long list of ingredients.  Goldfish crackers, it would seem, are supposed to be part of childhood but I can’t stand giving them to him. So when I stumbled on a recipe for homemade cheesy crackers I couldn’t resist. I just swapped out and used local whole wheat flour.

Little in a cupboard

Little wolfed down three before they were completely cool. That is after I pulled him out of the cupboard he had crawled in to while I was cooking.

And the best part? They couldn’t be easier. I was shocked at how quickly they came together. The finished cracker was a bit nutty, very cheesy, and addictive. They are rich and I don’t recommend eating more than 5-6 in one sitting. Put them away as soon as they are cool or you will eat too many at once.

Cheese crackers

Cheese crackers

1 1/2 cups cheddar (about 6 oz.)
4 T butter
3/4 cup  whole wheat flour
1/4 t salt
sea salt, for sprinkling
 Cheese crackers
In a food processor, pulse all of the ingredients together until it forms a ball.  Place the ball between two pieces of wax paper, and roll it out to about 1/8″ thick.  Using a pastry wheel or small cookie cutters, cut into shapes.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Poke each cracker with a fork or skewer so that they don’t puff too much.  Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired. Bake at 350ºF for 10-14 minutes until lightly browned on the edges (I liked them crispy).  Cool on the baking sheet, and store in an airtight container. Devour.
Cheese crackers

Sausage, ricotta, and spinach stuffed shells

Remember all that lovely ricotta I taught you to make last week? If you missed it go here and check it out. This recipe is best made with your own yummy homemade ricotta. Add a little extra salt to the milk as it is heating up as you will be using it in a savory recipe. I would say 1 to 1 1/2 tsp.

This was a tasty Sunday night dinner I lovingly made for my sister and brother-in-law. I threw this together on the fly so I hope I have remembered everything I did. It was oh so very good and made excellent leftovers.

Sausage, ricotta and spinach stuffed shells (serves five to six depending on how hungry the boys are)

25 jumbo shells (this is more than you need but I always make extra to account for broken shells)
1 lb package of Italian sausage (mild or hot your choice)
3 cups baby spinach
1 recipe homemade ricotta or roughly 4 cups ricotta
4 tbs butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp garlic powder
fresh ground black pepper
fresh ground nutmeg (don’t argue with me on this one. Get a whole nutmeg and a microplane. The powdered stuff is yucky)

Pasta: Cook the shells according to the package. Make sure the water is plenty salty. Drain, rinse.

Prep for Sausage, Ricotta, and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Filling: Meanwhile brown the sausage over medium high heat in a large pan. Break it up in to little pieces as it cooks. Drain the oil. Put in a large bowl. Return the dirty pan to stove over low heat. Throw in the spinach, toss to coat with the leftover oil. Cover and leave over low heat for 2-3 minutes. Once completely wilted add to the same bowl as the sausage. Mix the sausage, half the ricotta, spinach, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp garlic powder, and some fresh ground pepper in a large bowl.

The Roux for the Stuffed Shells

Sauce: In a large sauce pan (or the pot you boiled the noodles in or the pan you made the sausage in if you want to dirty fewer pots) melt the butter over medium high heat. Once completely melted add all the flour and whisk until smooth. Slowly add the milk a little at a time whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Once the sauce reaches a batter like consistency you can add the rest of the milk- all while continually whisking. Add 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt, about 1/8 tsp nutmeg, and a few grinds of black pepper. Allow to boil and as it does it will thicken. Remove from heat and mix in the rest of the ricotta. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Placing The Stuffed Shells

Sausage, Ricotta, and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Assemble: Preheat oven to 350. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the sauce and pour the rest in the bottom of a large baking dish. Take a shell, scoop about 1 tablespoon of filling in to the shell, then nest it in to the sauce seam side up. Repeat till you are out of shells, filling, or both. Dollop a spoonful of the reserved sauce over each shell. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn on broiler, move dish under broiler, and let brown for 2-3 minutes.

Enjoy.

Ps. There is still plenty of time to enter my giveaway for a bag of teff. Go here to see how to enter (and learn what the heck teff is).

Sausage, Ricotta, and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Homemade Ricotta

I want you to make your own ricotta. It is easy. I promise. It is not something just the Martha Stewarts of the world make. Everyone can (and should!) make their own ricotta.

We make this at least once a month. The taste and texture of homemade ricotta doesn’t even begin to compare to what you can find in stores. Make this once and you will never ever buy it again. Also it is infinitely cheaper to make your own.

A few years ago Nathan and I took a cheese making class at Cooks, Pots, and Tabletops. It was a riot. We pulled mozzarella, learned to make marscapone, and were introduced to the simplicity of homemade ricotta. We haven’t attempted the marscapone or mozzarella since but I can’t count the number of times we have made ricotta. We will be making mozzarella sometime soon though and I promise to share that adventure.

Here is the recipe followed by a  picture by picture tutorial.

Ricotta

1 gallon whole milk
1/3 cup plus 1 tsp distilled white vinegar
1 tsp salt (to taste really but 1 tsp is a good place to start)

Ingredients for Ricotta

It is three easy ingredients. Salt, milk, and white vinegar. Use whole milk. The flavor comes from the cream. It is worth the calories. Make sure the milk is just pasteurized not ultra-pasteurized. It will say on the box which it is.

Pouring Milk in Pan

Rinse a large non-reactive pan with cold water (will help prevent the milk from scalding), add milk and salt. Stir. Place over medium heat.

Thermometer in Milk

Place a thermometer in the milk. We rig up a system with some foil. Make sure it doesn’t touch the bottoms or sides. A probe thermometer works great although a candy thermometer will do as well. Heat to 180 degrees F stirring occasionally.

Adding Vinegar
Stirring Ricotta

Remove from heat add the vinegar and stir for one minute and one minute only using a metal spoon (not wood). Use an up and down motion rather than stirring around and be gentle. We are encouraging the curds to form so we don’t want to break them up.

Covered Ricotta Pot

Once done stirring cover with a clean dry towel and allow to sit undisturbed for a few hours. We have made it in the morning before heading to work then strained it when we got home or even made it before bed and strained it in the morning.

Removing Ricotta from Pot
Ricotta in Baskets

After it has sat for however long (at least two hours) get a straining basket or line a colander with a damp cheesecloth (a thin kitchen towel will work great, a couple of layers of paper towels will work in a pinch). With slotted spoon gently ladle the curds out either in to the colander or basket. Let it drain freely for a couple of hours or so depending on how creamy you want your cheese to be.

Finished Ricotta

Once it is done draining unmold and place in a sealed container for up to 7 days. Refrigerate. It does not freeze well so use right away. Makes roughly 4 cups.

That’s it! Simple right?

Note- If making ricotta to use in a desert or a sweet application reduce or omit salt. You can replace 1 pint of the milk with 1 pint of whipping cream for a more decadent, creamier cheese. The longer it sits the more separated the curds will become. Let it sit 3-4 hours for a creamier cheese, 6 or more for more cottage cheesy like texture.

A recipe for what to do with all this cheese will follow next week!

How to Make Ricotta