In our continuing quest to be frugal, while still enjoying the food we love to eat, we like to try new ways of saving money in the food budget and new ways to cook on one income. Ms. J heard about a cookbook by Jennifer Reese, ‘Make the Bread, Buy the Butter’, which looked like it would be what we were looking for. Cookbooks can be tricky, everyone has their own style of cooking. So even if a cookbook gets a good review, it might not fit in with the way we cook. So we like to try out cookbooks first before buying them. I reserved this book from our local library, and finally was able to get it yesterday after waiting for a month or so.
As the dust jacket explains, Jennifer lost her job and was trying to economize by doing for herself what she had previously paid for. Things like making her own peanut butter, cheese, bread, and 120 or so other foods in order to save money. She then wrote this book to show what is worthwhile to do yourself, and what might be best left to the professionals.
Each recipe answers the question ‘Make it or Buy it ?’, and for ricotta, the answer is ‘Make it!’.
She also has a blog of her own too, The Tipsy Baker.
We love lasagna, and the weather is just about cool enough now to start making some of the Fall dishes we like. Lasagna is also a good thing to make on a Sunday since it can take some time to cook, more time than I might have on a weeknight, and it can easily be saved for later in the week. So the first thing we wanted to try out from the book was the recipe on how to make ricotta cheese. With the enthusiastic help of Mr. C, we spent about 2 hours, and ended up with some delicious fresh cheese. Ricotta is pretty much just coagulated milk curds, so its got to be one of the easier cheeses to make on your own. But we had never realized how easy it was. As Jennifer points out though, the cost is just about the same if you buy your own versus make it, but the difference is that home made ricotta tastes much better.
Just two ingredients are needed, a gallon of milk, and 3/4 cup of white vinegar or 6 tablespoons of lemon juice. We went with the vinegar since that’s what we had.
You just need to combine the two ingredients in a big pot, like a pasta pot, and then let them boil. Mr. C liked giving it a few stirs with the big wooden spoon. Lifting up a 40 pound 3 year old so he can stir the pot takes some careful coordination! You just heat up the pot until it just about boils, and then let it cool off for about 20 minutes. Here’s Ms. J below demonstrating how a watched pot of cooking ricotta never boils.
After it cools off, ladle the ricotta into a cheese cloth lined colander and let it drain for another 20 minutes or so. And that’s it. We ended up with light and fluffy ricotta cheese. Store bought ricotta is just fine, but we found this home made cheese to be much less rubbery, and easier to work with when making the lasagna. Very tasty, a hint of sweetness, with a little bit of tanginess to it as well.
Then it’s on to the lasagna. I think there are as many recipes for lasagna as there are cooks, it seems to be a very personal dish. Some like it with a lot of sauce, some prefer more cheese, some prefer a lot of noodles, with meat, without meat, with or without some kind of vegetable such as spinach. I’ve never had a lasagna in a restaurant that I’ve liked. So if we want it, I just make it at home.
I’ll just have to give some general instructions on how I make it since I don’t really make it from a standard recipe. I’ve been making this for years, and will usually alter it each time depending on what I have available. I think that’s pretty much how lasagna developed, immigrants just used what they had available to come up with what’s really a noodle casserole.
Something else we did this year was grow our own basil. We love pesto sauce, and it cost something like $8 for a tiny little jar of it that might be used for one meal. So we grew some of our own, for about the cost of the seeds, $2 or so. It’s got to be one of the easiest things to grow, and now we have plenty of basil to use for pesto sauces in the Fall. So I gathered some pesto leaves, and chopped them up to use in the sauce.
I wanted to include some meat, so I sautteed some ground veal, about a pound. I usually use sausage meat, but veal was on sale! When it’s just about all the way cooked, I add in the sauce and the chopped basil. I like to heat up the sauce with the meat and basil, thinking that it helps to merge all those flavors together. Mr. C helped with the stirring here too.
Making a tomato sauce is easy if you have fresh tomatoes available, or even just a can of whole or crushed tomatoes. Just chop them all up and cook them up on the stove with some spices until it’s cooked down to how thick you want it, with whatever spices you want to add like basil and oregano. Much cheaper than using a pre made jar of sauce. This time though, I just had one big tomato from Kimball’s Farm in Pepperell, MA, (the best fresh tomatoes we’ve found!) I’d need at least three or four big tomatoes usually. So I did have to use some jarred sauce. I like to use Boves brand for lasagna, it seems to have the right thickness and it’s not too spicy.
Cook it all up for ten minutes or so, while your lasagna noodles are boiling.
Then once the noodles are just about done, drain the pot in a colander, and carefully start creating the layers. Alternating the layers between sauce and noodle and adding in the ricotta.I say ‘not completely done’, since they’ll cook a little bit more in the oven, and carefully since those noodles are hot!
And you can add on slices of mozzarella on top to get all melty in the oven.
Cook in the oven for a half hour at 375 degrees, until the top layer of cheese looks melted. Yes, I’m not an exact recipe follower!
It was definitely worth it to make the ricotta ourselves. Mr. C really enjoys helping out with the cooking, and will willingly try things that he helps cook. This is most likely a cookbook that we will be buying very soon. Each recipe is like a different craft project for us to try with Mr. C.
I’m sure I did not eat lasagna when I was three, just too many things all mixed up. But Mr. C, ate it up.
Now I have to do the dishes.
Here’s an update. Mr. C woke up this morning and asked for some lasagna for breakfast.
And as further evidence of our frugality, J made some whole wheat bread with some of the left over whey from the cheese making. I had never heard of using whey in a bread recipe before. This is more of a loaf than a bread. It’s very dense, and heavy, it has the tang and flavor of the whey. Because of the heaviness, it’s the perfect kind of bread to have slice or two of during dinner, rather than used as sandwich bread.