The Great Lasagna Challenge, Day 2: Cheese, Please…

Day 2, Chapter One: Ricotta

So, we began the day bright eyed and bushy tailed, with cheese-making equipment in hand. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, let it be known: we opted for a kit this first time. It was a relative value, had everything we needed and included step-by-step instructions. If you are interested in picking one of these kits up as well, you can find the one we went with at http://www.cheesemaking.com.

Anyway, ricotta looked like the easier option so we decided to try it out first, as a practice run/ego boost.

It took 2 full days and over 100 miles of travel to get those materials. Cheese is a commitment.
It took 2 full days and over 100 miles of travel to get those materials. Cheese is a commitment.

As far as the ricotta was concerned, the process is straightforward and simple: place some milk and citric acid in a pot, get it hot enough to make curds and strain it.

We thought the curds starting to form was strangely beautiful.
We thought the curds starting to form was strangely beautiful.

Once the initial straining is complete, we tied the cheese up and let it continue to drain/dry for approximately 40 minutes.

Afterwards, it looked like this:

It looks delightful!
It looks delightful!

The kit said the instructions should make 1 3/4 to 2 lb. of ricotta; our first effort came in at approximately 15 oz. There are a number of factors contributing to this: we used 2% milk instead of whole which most likely lessened our yield, and in all reality it was our first try and we knew going in that cheese making is a skill that we’re not going to master in one try. However, what we DID manage to strain looks awesome and we can’t wait to put it to good use. Also, we noted a recipe in our kit for pizza dough using the leftover whey, so we threw together three batches of pizza dough on a whim. Thank goodness we did.

 

Day 2, Chapter 2: Noodles

We opted to make the lasagna noodles next, as this was solid ground: we’re well-versed in making our own pasta, and this was just an old friend in a new form. Since we were making so much today, we opted to go the quick route and brought out the kitchen-aid:

One of my favorite kitchen toys.
One of our favorite kitchen toys.

If anyone wants to make their own pasta, it’s simple: it’s a 2/3 C. flour per egg, and a “dash” of salt. For a full pound, we used 4 C. flour and 6 eggs.

For those with a kitchen-aid, just turn it on to medium for approximately 5 minutes using the dough hook. If you don’t have a stand mixer, pile the flour and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs to the well, and begin to blend into the flour gently, slowly incorporating more. Once all of the flour is incorporated, knead for 3-5 minutes until smooth.

After that, it’s all a matter of rolling and cutting.

I had a store-bought noodle that I used for measurement
We had a store-bought noodle that we used for measurement

Before putting the lasagna together, we boiled the noodles for a minute, moved to an ice bath and then into a colander to drain. Finally, we were done with our second project and it was time to try some mozzarella.

 

Day 2, Chapter 3: Mozzarella

We made the mozzarella last because honestly, we didn’t have enough milk on hand to make both cheeses and didn’t want to go to the store until totally necessary. However, the time had come and we were going to be full-fledged cheese masters! We got our ingredients together and started the process: as the treated milk started to heat, we could tell that something just wasn’t right with this batch. After some attempts at remedying the situation and a trip to the kit maker’s website, we realized that the milk purchased for the mozzarella was over-pasteurized. Instead of getting a tasty hunk of fresh mozzarella cheese, we got this:

Ya gotta know when hold 'em, know when to fold 'em...
Ya gotta know when hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…

Normally we would have just thrown this out. However, the site said that we could add some herbs/seasonings to this and use it as a cheese spread. So, we had one cheese success, one cheese fail and we weren’t having lasagna tonight. But our night of crafting was not done yet…

 

Day 2, Chapter 4: Dinnertime!

Thank goodness we opted to make that pizza dough! We put some fresh garlic and peppers on it, topped it with the aforementioned mozzarella mistake-spread and served it with the homemade marinara we made on Monday. Hands down, they were the best cheese sticks we’ve ever had, and if this is any sign of things to come, we are very excited at the prospect of tomorrow’s homemade lasagna.

Very tasty, and very filling.
Very tasty, and very filling.

So, the Great Lasagna Challenge is turning out to be just that: a challenge. We are learning though, and having a good time doing it. Tomorrow is going to be another shot at mozzarella with a different milk, and if all goes well the culmination of our efforts…a face-to-face showdown between homemade lasagna and one made with store-bought ingredients! Make sure to check it out 🙂

 

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