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Making ricotta at home is fun and easy. It takes milk, acid and patience; often the latter is the hardest part. In my copy of Home Cheesemaking, I have written “BE PATIENT” on the page with the ricotta recipe to remind me that nothing good comes from rushing homemade cheese. Having said that, I can happily report that my batch today was the best I’ve ever made; the milk separated quickly, well before reaching 180 degrees, which was shocking. There have been occasions when I stood over the stove for an hour or more, waiting for the curds to separate from the whey, adding more acid until you could taste it and the cheese was tough. Not fun. The best answer I have to explain why my ricotta was so easy to make today is that I chose good milk. That’s the only factor that changes. I used to use the best milk I could get, spending $7 and up for a gallon of local, organic, vat-pasteurized whole milk (ultra-pasteurized milk will not make cheese), but my noted successes with ricotta came when I used Whole Foods brand organic whole milk and, today, Organic Valley whole milk. Go figure. I guess I will have to say trial and error is the key. So, here’s what I made today:

Isn’t it pretty? It has a light, airy texture and a rich, creamy taste. Just what I wanted.

But that’s not all I want to tell you about! Having made cheese many times and yogurt a few times, I am embarrassed to say that I have wasted gallons and gallons of whey because I just didn’t know what to do with it. I would give half a cup or so to the dog; she loves it and waits expectantly at my feet for her taste. But down the sink with the rest… so sad. Today, I had time and was determined to find a use for the whey. Boy, did I ever! I learned that you can use it in smoothies to boost protein content, to ferment vegetables (think sauerkraut), instead of water in yeast doughs and — this is where I got really excited– in place of milk or buttermilk in muffins, scones or quick breads to lighten the crumb. Fantastic. I had been planning to bake some muffins today; what perfect timing.

I was going to try out some new muffin and/or scone recipes, but chose instead to make blueberry muffins so I could compare the taste, texture etc. to something I know. I’m converted! The one note I read several time was that my muffins would brown faster and, of course, they didn’t; they actually didn’t brown as much my regular recipe does, but otherwise they are right in line with traditional blueberry muffins. There is no flavor difference I can detect; texture-wise, they seem to be moister and lighter, which is nice to contrast the chewiness that can come when you bake with whole wheat flour. I already made a second batch of muffins, and with a solid two quarts of whey left in the fridge, I have visions of a bake shop in my kitchen this week, loading up the freezer with goodies like my super-talented niece has been doing.

Blueberry Muffins (adapted from Bon Appetit: Fast, Easy, Fresh)

  • 2 c. whole wheat flour, or white wheat flour
  • 3/4 c. white sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 c. whey (or whole milk if you don’t have whey)
  • 1/2 c. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/3 c. fresh or unthawed frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan, or line it with papers.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and zests. In a smaller bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the whey (or milk), oil, vanilla and eggs. Pour this mixture into your dry ingredients and stir just until the dry ingredients are wet; gently fold in the blueberries. The mixture should be making some noise at you, and it should be slightly lumpy. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups; bake for 18-20 mins. until the tops are brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the taller muffins comes out clean. Serve warm, or keep in a tightly-covered container for a few days. The muffins can also be frozen for 3-6 months.

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