Living Richly With WIC: Ricotta Cheesecake

The challenge to myself was to make a cheesecake from a gallon of milk.

And I did.

Ricotta yogurt cheesecake.

This can be made without the crust, but I had a box of graham crackers in the cupboard to use up.

Crust:

About 10 full graham crackers
4 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar (this could be optional)

Process in food processor (or crush the graham crackers with a rolling pin and mix in a bowl).  Press into the bottom of a buttered springform pan.  I think mine is 10 inches.

Cake:

2 1/2 cups ricotta
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs (or 3 duck eggs)
Grated lemon zest from one lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla
For extra creaminess, you can add 4 ounces of cream cheese, or a half cup of cream.

Mix in food processor until very smooth.  (The second time I made this, I didn’t process it for very long because Sophie was sleeping a few feet away. There was definitely a difference.) Pour into buttered pan.  Bake at 325 for about an hour.

Max’s two favorite things that aren’t video games or Lego, of course. This was two weeks ago. Oh, and ricotta cheesecake is one of his favorite things too.

Living Richly With WIC: Greek-Style Yogurt

“Living Richly With WIC” is a series of posts about how we use our WIC foods.  Since we’re not big milk drinkers, we have to be creative to use up gallons of milk.

Greek-style yogurt is one of my favorite things (along with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens).  But we don’t buy it often because it’s so expensive.  And even though the directions for it are right on page 182 of my Mediterranean cookbook, it didn’t occur to me that I could make this at home.

(See Homemade Yogurt for how we make yogurt at home.)

It is so rich and creamy that I had no idea it didn’t contain cream.  It is simply strained yogurt.

Yogurt, drained over fine-weave cloth, in a strainer, over a bowl, in the fridge, overnight.

My Mediterranean cookbook gives a more rustic approach — tie up the yogurt in cheesecloth and hang from a broomstick suspended between two chairs, with a bowl on the floor to catch the whey.  But my method works just fine.

I like this yogurt plain, but I also use it for ricotta cheesecake (recipe coming soon) and frozen yogurt.  Max eats frozen yogurt in his school lunch and as a snack after school.

For frozen yogurt, I strain 2 cups yogurt overnight, mix the strained yogurt with 1 cup regular yogurt (Max doesn’t like it too thick), and then add sweetener (he likes maple syrup and sugar) and sometimes blended fruit.  He likes it really smooth, so I use the hand blender to mix it well. Then we run it through our hand-cranked ice cream maker.  It’s super easy, fairly healthy, and really inexpensive.

Living Richly With WIC: Making Ricotta

My first try at making ricotta was incredible.  I followed Smitten Kitchen’s blog for a rich, whole milk (and cream) ricotta. Absolutely delectable on homemade French bread, topped with fresh made blackberry or peach jam.

I was reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma at the time, but I can’t say that’s why I felt the need to make things from scratch.  I’ve always been baffled by packaged foods, and intimidated by the long aisles in the grocery store.  To me, making a batch of ricotta in the morning is much simpler than picking it up at the store.

With WIC, I’m limited to purchasing lower fat milk, so this was my first time making ricotta from 2%.  And as expected, it was not as rich and creamy, but fairly dry. However, rather than being a delicate spreadable cheese, it was sturdier and almost rubbery — perfect for cooking.

A full gallon of 2% milk produced a bit more than 3 cups of ricotta (more than needed for the cheesecake).  I normally save the whey for baking bread, but I didn’t keep it this time — I’m not baking much bread these days, and I knew I’d be making ricotta again soon enough.

I’m not laying out the instructions here, step-by-step, but am including photos because it is so stinkin’ easy.  No more than 15 minutes in the kitchen, and will save you a bundle of money.

Heating milk and salt to 190 degrees.

Milk after curdling with acid. I used white distilled vinegar, as it’s cheaper than juicing a few lemons. I liked the results with lemon juice. I will also try rennet and citric acid in the future. Since I was cooking with the ricotta, I knew vinegar would be fine.

After the milk curdles for a few minutes (from 5 minutes to an hour), drain with cheesecloth or other fine, clean fabric. I use a hemp produce bag that a friend made for us — the weave is tight and perfect for this.

3 cups of ricotta. Ready for cheesecake!

Whey has a greenish tint. Weird, huh? This could probably be made into ricotta again (ricotta means “recooked”).

This post needed some gratuitous cuteness, no?

Living Richly With WIC: Homemade Yogurt

I had always heard it was easy to make yogurt at home, but hadn’t been inspired to try until now.  There are hundreds of recipes and techniques one can find online.  I tried one using a preheated crock pot.

  1. Heat crockpot on low
  2. 8 cups milk heated to 180-185 degrees

    My first batch of yogurt was a little grainy at the bottom of the jars. Some online research led me to information about some of the milk possibly being overheated, causing protein molecules to get all wonky. I took the advice and heated the milk in a double-boiler. I also read that holding the milk at 180 degrees would produce a creamier batch. I tried this and the yogurt turned out perfectly.

  3. Cool milk to 110 degrees

    I put the bowl in a sink of cold water to speed the cooling process.

  4. Temper 1 cup yogurt (storebought with active cultures, or use a portion of previous batch of yogurt) with 1 cup cooled milk

    If you’re looking for a yogurt at the store, use plain yogurt with active cultures.

    This is the starter I used for the first couple batches. After that, I set aside some of the homemade yogurt for a starter for the next batch.

     

  5. Mix yogurt-milk with rest of milk, stir thoroughly
  6. Pour into individual jars, and place each into crockpot

    The crockpot should be turned off (and unplugged too). Wrap it in a towel or two to hold the heat in.

  7. Wrap crockpot with thick towel  (Because our kitchen is fairly cool, every once in a while I turn the crockpot to the “Warm” setting for a few minutes and then unplug again.)
  8. Wait 8 hours.  Put lid on jars, and put in fridge overnight.

    4 1/2 pints yogurt for about $2.50.

Now, if you want a little science about how 2% milk can produce such thick, lovely yogurt, I refer you to Joe Pastry.

Living Richly With WIC

When I first participated in WIC (Women, Infants and Children) I was in my early 20’s, had only one child, and was relatively new to homemaking.  (WIC is a supplemental nutrition program, federally funded, which provides vouchers for specific foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals.) But I wasn’t new to nutrition, and I knew that drinking as much milk as WIC provided, and serving it to my child, wasn’t going to guarantee health.

WIC provided gallons of milk per month (in addition to beans, peanut butter, eggs, juice, cheese, and cereal). I normally didn’t cash in most of the milk vouchers, but occasionally would make an attempt to collect it all and use it up.  With my limited kitchen experience, my options were limited to “cream of” soups, puddings, and baked goods. I had no idea what else to do with milk and much of it went down the drain.

Since I’ve been on maternity leave, my lower income qualified us for WIC once again.  I am happy to see the program has evolved — there is less milk, less juice, vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables, soy substitutions for those that can’t have dairy, and vouchers for whole grain foods (whole wheat bread, tortillas, rice, and other whole grains in bulk). The local WIC office also provides vouchers for local farmers markets, as well as organic vegetables that are grown on site.

Even with less milk vouchers, as a pregnant mother of a child under 5, we still receive more milk than we could ever imagine drinking.  Something like 7 gallons per month? But my kitchen experience has greatly expanded in the last 10 years, and I had some new ideas.

We might not like drinking milk, but we love other dairy products — cheese, yogurt, ice cream, sour cream, cream cheese.  I think we would live fairly richly, with minimal effort, if I could utilize the milk to make the dairy products we love and can use.

We are lucky to live in an area with a local dairy company (although it is now owned by a non-local corporation), and the majority of the milk they use is from local cows that we can see roaming free in open pastures across the county.  We love our cows here.  The milk is pasteurized, but luckily not ultra pasteurized (UHT) — is it true that UHT milk is all some people can find in their towns?

Since I already was familiar with making ricotta at home, my first challenge was to turn a gallon of milk into a ricotta cheesecake.  Most recipes called for cream cheese as well, and since I don’t have the culture for making cream cheese (and no energy to track some down), I decided to drain yogurt, which results in a “cheese” that is similar in consistency and taste to cream cheese.  In order to do this, I also had to make yogurt.

Ricotta yogurt cheesecake.

To make ricotta-yogurt cheesecake, I only needed milk, lemon, salt, yogurt culture, eggs and sugar.  Since we have graham crackers gathering dust in the cupboards, I decided to use them and some butter for the crust.  I also needed time.  But probably not as much as you expect.

More to come.