Year of the Dragon

Happy Spring Festival!

I went to Sanyuanli on Friday and discovered they would be closed over the week until Thursday for the holiday. So I bought as much as I could carry and that I thought might fit in the fridge, because that’s clearly the proper reaction, before heading to a lesson at the Westin.

Sawyer finally came home Saturday evening so I planned a nice little dinner.
First I made my own ricotta cheese. I tried and failed to do this several months back, but this time I used a thermometer and it succeeded wildly. Now it seems I might have too much delicious ricotta! (Is that even possible?) Technically it’s not proper ricotta, more of a cottage or farmer’s cheese, since real ricotta is made from the sweet whey of hard cheeses. But it’s soft, spreadable, and tastes much the same.

Ricotta, after draining and chilling for several hours


Homemade Ricotta: 2 1/2 cups cream, 3 1/2 cups whole milk. 3 Tbs of lemon juice and 1 Tbs white vinegar. Lemon gives it a nice lemony flavor and the white vinegar makes sure the acidity level is enough. Slowly bring the milk and cream, plus a pinch of sea salt, to 190F, stirring to keep the bottom from scorching. Once it reaches 190F, remove the milk from heat, pour in the lemon juice and vinegar, give it one stir and let it sit for 5 minutes. Prepare a colander with a double lining of cheesecloth over a large bowl to catch the whey. Pour the curdled milk into the strainer and let it drain for about 2 hours. I let it drain overnight in the fridge, which makes it a little more firm. I’ve been snacking on it, spread on slices of baguette, drizzled with honey for breakfast, and sea salt and pepper for snacks.

Saturday afternoon after another class I went to April Gourmet and Wumart to pick up a few more things. Man was it packed! Everyone scrambling to get their last minute purchases before all their relatives come into town.

First I made dessert. Sanyuanli had some big bins of strawberries come in, and I couldn’t resist buying some. I decided to make lemon-ricotta stuffed strawberries. I took a cupful of ricotta, blended it with powdered sugar and the zest of a whole lemon, creaming it with a spoon until it was soft and pliable. Used a paring knife to hollow out the strawberries, and then piped them full of ricotta using a ziplock bag as a pastry bag. It was a little messy, as the bag kept springing leaks, but I got it done and even managed to make them look pretty.

Hollowing out a bowlful of strawberries


Lemon Ricotta Stuffed Strawberries


At Sanyuanli I found some vibrant and pretty Romanesco broccoli. I cut it into small florets, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and minced garlic, and roasted it at 425F for 25 minutes. I made a very simple couscous–one cup couscous, one cup chicken broth, salt and pepper. Couscous is so easy to make: bring the stock to boil, add the couscous, stir, remove it from heat and cover, and five minutes later fluff it with a fork and add whatever spices. I served it with the pan seared chicken legs I made with spaetzle last week.

Bright and fun-looking Romanesco Broccoli


While I was waiting for Sawyer to arrive from the airport, I amused myself by making donuts, since I can’t remember the last time I even had a donut (Korea, maybe?). I found an interesting looking recipe for baked sweet potato donuts and tweaked it a bit, which I figured would be at least less-unhealthy than your average deep fried dough.

Ingredients:
*1 cup mashed sweet potato (bake or microwave beforehand)
*5 small eggs
*1/2 cup sugar
*1/2 cup brown sugar
*3 Tbs melted butter
*1/4 tsp salt
*1/2 tsp cinnamon
*1/2 cup milk
*1/4 tsp vanilla
* 2 1/4 tsp yeast
*3 1/2 cups flour

I warmed the milk carefully to about 100F, and sprinkled the yeast over, letting it fizzle and foam while I mixed the mashed potato, eggs, vanilla, sugar, melted butter, cinnamon. After five minutes when the yeast was done, I mixed it in. Then I mixed in the flour bit by bit. After a bit of a knead, I let it rest for two hours. Then I rolled the dough out lightly on a floured cutting board, to about half inch thickness. I don’t have any cookie or biscuit cutters, so I improvised and used the bottom part of my juicer to cut out circles, and poked a hole through with my finger. I let them rise again on baking sheets, before popping in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes until risen and golden brown. Hot out of the oven I dusted them with cinnamon sugar. Warmed them gently in the oven the next morning for breakfast with Vietnamese coffee. They were a little more cake-like than I was craving, but Sawyer liked them, as did my student’s family, who invited us for dumpling making and dinner in honor of Chinese New Year.

Sweet Potato Donuts on Their Second Rise Before Baking


Donuts Fresh Out of the Oven

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