Confession: I’ve made ricotta at home before and found the experience underwhelming. True, the process couldn’t be easier, but after dumping a gallon of milk into a pot, adding some lemon juice, turning up the heat, waiting for everything to separate, and straining out the solid stuff in a colander, I wound up with the tiniest bit of lumpy homemade cheese. “Eh,” I said as I ate the fruits of my labor with a spoon. “I’d rather just buy it from the store.”
Then I read Molly Wizenberg’s new book Delancey and found myself totally intrigued by her ricotta recipe. Yes, there’s almost a gallon of whole milk but, instead of lemon juice, you use buttermilk for the acid and then you also use cream. Most impressive of all: the recipe promises to yield ONE POUND of ricotta. That final bit seemed too good to be true so I knew that I had to make it this past weekend.
Don’t get excited: I’m not thinking about opening a restaurant.
But! I have a really good restaurant name in mind (based on a nickname for my friend Diana who, in my fantasy, opens this imaginary restaurant with me here in L.A.; again, it’s just a fantasy, stop getting excited!). I realized, though, in having this fantasy that if I were ever to really do it, I wouldn’t be shooting for the moon ambition-wise. I’d just want a cozy place where I could serve biscuits and comfort food and hang out, during the day, chatting with the staff and customers and maybe blogging from a corner booth. I just heard the guffaw from anyone who’s worked in the restaurant industry when they read that last sentence. Which is why I’m posting this post.
Today’s the second day of Hanukkah and as much as I wish I could tell you that I’m frying latkes and spinning dreidels and unwrapping Hanukkah gelt in celebration, I’m actually sitting here next to a pile of cookbooks trying to figure what constitutes the Best of 2009. You see, many of my food blogging contemporaries–David, Deb, Eat Me Daily–have already offered up their take on what you should buy for you and yours this holiday season and now it’s my turn to separate the wheat from the chaff or the sour cream from the apple sauce (latke joke!). Are you ready for some hardcore gift-buying ideas? Come along with me.
Inspiration strikes me more as a writer, than a cook. “Write a play about a parrot that saves a family from genocide,” says inspiration. “Thanks inspiration,” I say and go on to win five Tonys.
But as a cook? I’m pretty uninspired, I’d have to say. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a happy cook, a passionate cook, I care about the food I make. But am I inspired to tweak that which I am cooking? Rarely, very rarely. Which is why, when making the banana bread from Molly’s “Homemade Life” for the second time (I didn’t blog about it the first time, but it’s a great banana bread made with butter instead of oil that has candied ginger and chocolate chips), I was surprised to hear a voice in my head whisper, like the voice in “Field of Dreams,” “brown the butter.” Brown the butter? You’re supposed to melt the butter, not brown the butter. “Brown the butter,” the voice persisted. I can’t! That’s not what you’re supposed to do. “BROWN THE FRIGGIN’ BUTTER, MORON!” All right! All right! I’ll brown the butter.
And brown the butter I did.
“Write what scares you.”
That’s the kind of directive you’ll get in college creative writing classes, interactive online workshops and, believe it or not, grad school. You’ll get it from the old pros and you’ll get it from frustrated young upstarts: “write what scares you.” David Lindsay Abaire is a prolific playwright with many hilarious plays under his belt, “Fuddy Meers” and “Kimberly Akimbo” among them. But it wasn’t until a mentor advised him to write what scared him most that he wrote what many consider his greatest play, “Rabbit Hole.” He was duly rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize.