March 27, 2012

Homemade Ricotta

There have been many times I'll see a commercial for some restaurant advertising their new dish, and my first thought will be, "I can make that myself. And Better!". Is it because I'm a cocky bastard? Possibly. But I think the real reason is that it really is possible to make it. With the internet, even beer is something that can be done at home. But one thing that has always seemed impossible for me to do at home is cheese. Between that special ingredient they add which causes the cream to separate and the aging process, I never gave it a second thought. All that changed when watching an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Mr. Fieri was at some little spot where a little old man was running the show. The old guy was going on and on about how everything was made from scratch. Then he said they even make their own ricotta. Now he had my interest.

In the show's fashion, they show him make the cheese in all of 20 seconds or so. The old guy was like "All you gotta do is heat the milk and salt, add some lemon juice, stir for a second, and your done!"  In all honesty, I was shocked. I thought, "There's no fucking way it can be that easy!".  I searched google for homemade ricotta recipes, and to my amazement, it really is that fucking easy.

I know when I hear someone say "It's that easy", I might think it's easy for them. But please believe me on this, it doesn't get much easier than this. Recipe after recipe I found, they all were basically saying the same thing the old man was saying. I found a few slight differences, like heating temperature and the addition or exclusion of heavy cream. But one thing I saw on all the recipes and reviews was how much better it is over store bought ricotta. They all commented that the texture is creamier and smoother. 

After reading all that, I knew I wanted to try it. Then came the big question: What to do with it? I talked it over with the home-girl Aimee, one of my coworkers. We tossed around a few ideas on both the sweet and savory side. In the end, I was still a little unsure of which way to go with it. I'll explain how the top picture came to be a little later.

After finding the recipe I was going to use, I hit the store and got what I needed. On a blog I had read, the writer said they just ate it on toast as a light snack. That didn't sound bad, so to play it safe, I bought a loaf of sliced french bread. Here is the recipe that I used.

1 Quart              Whole Milk
1/2 cup               Heavy Cream
1/4tsp                 Salt
1 1/2tbs              Lemon Juice
                          Cheese Cloth (to strain)

And that's it folks. Some recipes didn't have heavy cream in it. Some used vinegar instead of lemon juice. Some recipes have you add the lemon juice at a higher temp. My advice is to read a few reviews of the recipe before choosing it. Sometimes people will talk about adjustments they made if the original recipe has a flaw to it.

I don't have too many pics for this one's not the most exciting procedure. But I will explain as best I can.

Take your milk, cream, and salt and get those in your pot and set the fire to medium-high. The recipe I followed said to get the liquid to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir a few times here and there to keep it from burning on the bottom. When the liquid reaches the temp, stir in the lemon juice just enough to mix it in and turn the heat down to a low simmer. Do not keep stirring! Leave it alone for about 2-3 minutes. It should look like this.

After a few minutes, gently stir a few times back and forth to break it up some. At this point, the curds will be clearly visible. Turn the heat off and let it sit for another 3 to 4 minutes to make sure it is as separated as it's going to get. Line a strainer with 2 layers of cheese cloth and pour in your mix.

Here is another area in which the recipes varied. The amount of time you let it strain will determine how firm the cheese is going to be. With all the recipes I checked, none of them said to strain for more than 2 hours. I stopped somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour.

This recipe will not give you a ton of cheese. In fact, you will only get about 1 cup of ricotta. But if you are hesitant on trying this, it's the right size to get your feet wet.

Here is the finished product.

How did it come out? Incredible. Normally, I'm very modest about what I make. But this was special. This was just freaking incredible! It comes out 100 times smoother than anything you can find at the store. Creamy with a subtle taste that wonderfully lingers in your mouth. It was so good I didn't want to mix it with anything! I couldn't see myself making cheesecake or lasagna with this. Now I was glad I bought that french bread.

I toasted the bread and raided the fridge. I had some left over caramelized onions and tomatoes that needed to get used. A little salt, pepper, a few drops of olive oil, and I had found bliss.

As soon as I was done, I sent a text to Aimee and told her the cheese was crazy-good. She responded with "How'd you get my number?!?!?! Don't text me ever again!!!"  That's just her way of saying she'll give it a try herself. I think....

Anyway, if you take anything away from this, know that it is possible to make cheese at home. You don't have to be some cow milking, sheep raping farmer from Wisconsin to make cheese. 

Until next time my friends, take care!

J. Miller. 

March 20, 2012

The Kogi Truck

The world famous Kogi truck. I think at this point, anyone that's heard how popular lunch trucks have become, knows about this truck. This one really started it all. And if you have ever tracked one of their trucks down, you know that there is good reason for all the hype.

This time was my second encounter with the Kogi truck. You can follow them on Twitter under @kogibbq . They will post where they are gonna be at for lunch and dinner. I got lucky that they were only a few miles from where I live. Normally they don't come around this neck of the woods very often.

If you have never tried food from one of the fancier lunch trucks, don't expect to find a huge menu. Most will usually have anywhere from 4 to 6 core items. What they will do is have 3 or 4 different ways to deliver it.  For example, a truck might have a braised pork shoulder. You can get it like a taco, a slider, or in a burrito. Kogi is no different in that area.

I'm not sure what I got the first time around, but I do know this time I had a taste for tacos. I got 3 tacos. Short rib, pork, and chicken. this is what it looked like.

I'm not gonna dive heavy into details about how good each one is. Why? Because they all taste great. For real, I could have ordered 3 of any one of those and been happy. But my favorite was the short rib. That one was just.....fucking awesome! Beyond tender with an incredible flavor. I don't know what they are doing in that truck, but whatever it is, it's working. Working real good!

And....that's really about it. I know, this one isn't the most exciting post I've ever had. I promise the next one is gonna make you cream yourself. So for now, I bid you farewell until next post.

J. Miller

March 13, 2012

A Little Bit Inspired

After reading the title, you are probably bracing yourself for a long, drawn out story about what inspired me to create that little wrap you see in the above picture. Well guess what? You are right! You are gonna get a story! Well, maybe more of an explanation than a story. In any case, go grab a drink and a snack, get comfy, and prepare to get your mind blown!

Got everything? Good. Now I can weave this tale of lies, sex, heroism, and HUNGER!! Ok, maybe without the lies....and sex....and heroism. But I was hungry.

Bullshit aside, what got me to make this was my craving for a banh mi. My first thought was to simply go to Lee's Sandwiches. I was just going to order a meal, take some pics and call it a day. But I didn't want to just phone it in. I had some free time after work and some items in the fridge that needed to be used. After taking a look at everything I had, I felt a wrap was the best route to take.  But before I show you how I put it together, I gotta back up just a bit.

All of this happened because I really like Banh Mi's. If you don't know what that is, it's a Vietnamese sandwich.  In my opinion, one of it's best qualities is the overall simplicity of it. A Banh Mi looks nothing like something you would find at Subway or Quiznos. It's gonna look something like this.

It really starts with french bread. Slice the bread in half. Insert meat (giggity), veggies, cilantro, DONE. The part that can be crucial is the preparation of the protein. And that's what makes the sandwiches so special. It doesn't look like a whole lot is going on. But the taste tells a completely different story. And that is what I really wanted to do. Create something that appears basic, but really packs a punch when it comes down to taste.

After skimming through the book 'WichCraft by Tom Colicchio, I did learn one important lesson: When building a great sandwich, you have to start on the outside and work your way in. As simple as that sounds, I didn't think like that before. But it makes sense. The bread, or wrapper, is the first thing your mouth comes in contact with when eating. If that is gonna make the first impression, you have to make sure it's gonna come correct. With that line of thinking in place, it was time to choose what I was going to use. I didn't want sliced bread. A wrap was clearly in mind. But I didn't want to just use a tortilla. I thought about making some bread from scratch, but I didn't want to put in that much work. Then I remembered I had these in the freezer.

I found these roaming around the Asian market one day. I was originally just going to eat them with hummus.  But when I saw the size and how thin they were, I thought they would be perfect for my needs. Sure enough, they were.

To cook these, all you have to do is drop them in a skillet on medium heat and cook them a couple minutes on each side. You don't even have to thaw them out. Not bad for about $3.

Now, the game plan was to use some chicken thighs I had cooked up the night before. Why did I cook them the night before? Because they were gonna go bad, that's why!

Since the bread was originally gonna be used to devour hummus, I figured I could use hummus in place of mayo. Sounds good, right? Well, I thought it sounded good. So, I made a small batch and spread that on the Roti.

I sliced the chicken thighs and put that on top of the hummus.

Thinly sliced red onion and carrot shavings got added next.

Next came cilantro. To put another twist on it, I added fresh spinach.

At this point, it's time to roll up and eat!

When finished, the wrap and chicken were still warm. I took a bite, and it quickly became apparent that I had weaseled my way onto something good. It had a light, refreshing taste to it. Not heavy in any way. I don't want to sound like a cocky bastard, but if ordered this from a restaurant, I would be very pleased to get this.

As I was enjoying the wrap, I realized what this reminded me of: Lunch truck food. Now, I don't mean that in the old roach coach, "I hope this doesn't give me mud butt!" kind of way. I say that in the cool, trendy way that food trucks have become.

I really am happy with how this turned out. I could go on longer talking about this, but I think I've said enough. I will say this: Next picnic or trip to disneyland, I'm making some of these to take with me.

Until next time, my friends, take care.

J. Miller

March 6, 2012

A Bottle In Front Of Me

"I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy". I love that quote. I'm not sure who said it. I guess I could google it, but I'm feeling a bit lazy right now. In any case, beer is good. I like beer. I think it likes me too. Even if it doesn't like me, I'm gonna have my way with it. I'm gonna pound it and pound it hard! YEAH! OK, that came off a little creepy. Let me try this again.

Beer is something that I've grown to appreciate and respect. Like a lot of young males, I started drinking whatever I could get my hands on in hopes of getting shit-faced. As you get older and try beers not sold at your local bodega, you quickly realize not all beers are created equal. Some will have a slight bitterness. Some will have a crisp finishing taste. And some are just clearly on a whole other level. When you find that one beer that fits you like a glove, you feel like telling the world about it.

Did I find that beer for this post? In a BUT, I did drink two really good beers and good wine for the price. And no, I did not drink all these in one night.

The first up is Arrogant Bastard Ale by the Stone Brewing Co. If you ever see that gargoyle on a beer bottle, you know it's gonna be a good quality drink. I've tried a few of their beers, and this one is my favorite. The main reason being is the intense, bold beer flavor this has. If you are not that crazy about beer or think Budweiser really is the king of beers, STAY AWAY! But the bold taste really makes this beer special. It hits you as soon as it hits your tongue and keeps going. It also helps that this beer is coming at you with a 7.5 percent alcohol volume.

Next up is a beer whose name couldn't be farther from the truth. Let me introduce you to Terrible.

The picture is not the only dark thing here. This is a dark ale. The bottle is jet black and this beer is packing 10.5% alcohol. That's quite a bit considering your average beer is around 4.5%.

Personally, I'm not all that crazy about dark ales. When St. Patricks day comes around, I don't drink Guiness. I usually grab a Killian's Irish Red. But, being the risk taker that I am, and the possibility of getting a good buzz off of one bottle, I decided to give it a try.

I was expecting something a little bitter, a little harsh. What I got was something very smooth, very silky. It had a chocolate-like finish to it. Honestly, I was really impressed. As far as getting messed up, I got a really nice buzz after downing the bottle. I can't say it caused a hangover because I had 3 shots of whiskey once the bottle was gone. Hey, my motto is "Let the good times roll".

Last, but not least, the wine.

It's a California wine called Hunters Grove. It was a 2009 or 2010. I honestly can't remember and I threw away the bottle. It doesn't matter that much anyway. I'll explain why in a bit.

Normally I am a red wine guy. I tend to gravitate to the big, bold cabernet. Lately I've been trying to get out of that rut and try some new some stuff. That's how this bottle ended up in my hands. To tell you the truth, I'm glad it did.

This is/was a good wine. Very fruity. Clean finish. You can't ask for a whole lot more. If you want to start your way into wines, this is a good choice to go with. I'm no wine expert, but I know I liked this one.

The reason why I'm not stressing over the year of the wine is because I can honestly say I've never had the same exact wine twice. Have I bought wine from the same company? Yes! There are a few which I trust that always seem to put out quality wines, like BV or Kenwood Vineyards. But I have never bought the same wine, same company, same year, EVER. I'm always looking for either something new or the best deal I can get.

When I'm shopping for wines, it's for one of two reasons: Cooking or Enjoying. If I need the wine for cooking, I'm usually not going to spend more than $10 for it. If it's just for consumption and relaxation, I'll try and keep it under $20. The best thing you can do is look for what's on sale.

The wine I tried was originally $19.99, but on sale for $9.99. I consider that a pretty good deal. And that is usually how I buy my wine. If it starts at $6 and goes to $5, the wine is most likely shit to begin with. Trust me on this one!

I gotta say, I had fun with this one. Maybe it was the wonderful taste of a good stand-by. Maybe it was the delight of a new discovery. Or maybe because I got to sit on my ass, get buzzed and tell you all about it. Either way, I like the outcome. I hope you did too.

Before we part, a little bit of business. For those of you who aren't friends with me on Facebook, I announced that I am going to have just one blog post per week. I was doing two a week, but I felt that by the end of the year, I was either going to go nuts, or just put out a crap product. I didn't want either one of those things to happen. I want to keep some standard of what I'm putting on here. Plus, I found myself going out more than I really wanted to.

I'm not going to stop doing reviews, but I do want to play around with food a bit more at home. I think we all should do that a little bit more.

That's it for now, my friends. Thank you for stopping by and be sure to check back in a week for more of that good stuff.

Take Care,

J. Miller


March 1, 2012

Five Guys...And A Cup (just kidding)

This one is gonna be on the shorter side. I don't think anyone needs a rundown on the dynamics of a burger. So I'm gonna get to the good and the bad real quick.

The food in the picture above is from the Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Costa Mesa, CA. Their menu is about as simple as it gets. Burger, Hot dog, Fries, Drink. That's it. You can choose from a list of items to add to your burger at no extra cost. That part I liked.

The restaurant itself has a good vibe. Loud music, well lit, and free peanuts to snack on. Not too shabby.

What I noticed when ordering, but didn't hit me later until a friend brought it up, is that they don't have any food combos. Everything you get you pay for individually. That sucks.

I get my food in a brown bag and sit down to eat. I like that they give you an ass load of fries. What you don't see in that pic are the ton of fries still in the bag. This part I like.

The burger tastes good. Real Good. You can tell everything is fresh. Same goes for the fries. I'm digging the taste.

What I'm not digging is the price. It was almost ten bucks for a double cheese burger with bacon combo. Honestly, as good as the burger is, I still prefer In-N-Out.

But the thing that really didn't sit well was the decor. Take a look for yourself.

Their walls are littered with every single good review they have ever had. I can understand tooting your own horn a bit, but this is sucking your own dick balls deep. There's no need for a franchise that size to beat you over the head with good review quotes and clippings. They really need to get over themselves.

All in all, good burger if you can afford it and can't find the nearest In-N-Out.


J. Miller