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I’ve already written about the lovely launch party I went to last week for my friend Jennifer’s new cookbook Homemade With Love. And the baking lesson I took Fiona to and the wonderful cheese crackers the kids and I made. It was all fun and delicious.
But here’s a little confession: as fun as it can be to bake with my kids, what I really love is to be in my kitchen all alone. It’s my happy place. The TV is on in the background playing something I’ve seen a million times and don’t have to pay much attention to, like an old sitcom (no Maddow or Daily Show or Colbert – I don’t want to get angry while I cook!). All of my ingredients and tools are lined up and waiting. By the time I’m done the place is usually a disaster, but I like to start with things neat and clean.
I started Saturday night by putting together the Baked French Toast. I’m always looking for breakfast recipes that I can make the night before – so much easier when company is coming over, or relatives are staying at my house. This one was really simple to put together. The hardest part is always finding room in my fridge for a 13×9 pan. :-)
A note about using vanilla beans: Do it! I’d never used one until a couple of weeks ago when I was making this banana pudding with pistachio topping. The first time I make any recipe, I always try to make it EXACTLY as written. The recipe said vanilla beans, so I bought vanilla beans. They are very easy to work with: just cut them in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with a spoon, add the seeds to your recipe, and enjoy the wonderful smell on your fingers!
The next morning all I had to do was put it in the oven, and serve. It was a hit!
I prefer my French toast a little drier, so I casually suggested that I might reduce the liquid a bit next time or bake it a little longer, and my husband agreed. Fiona said no way, it should be even moister! Then Jake chimed in with “Don’t change anything, it’s perfect.” Now, I don’t want to discount the opinions of my husband and daughter – I want them to like what I make and I’m thrilled when they do. But when my cooking pleases Jake, well, that gives me a special thrill, because he’s the pickiest in the house. Score! I think I’ll keep everything the same for next time.
I then moved on to making Creamy Homemade Ricotta. If you’ve never had fresh ricotta spread on a little piece of crusty bread, go do it now. I’ll wait.
Making ricotta isn’t like making a solid cheese, which can be difficult and involves all sorts of equipment and exact temperatures. Ricotta is easy-peasy. There’s lots of room for error. And here’s a little cheat for you: if for some reason you’re just not getting curds, add a tablespoon or two of white vinegar. Fixed!
I wanted a dryer ricotta. The longer you drain it for, the dryer it will be. After draining for about thirty minutes, it looked like this:
I was making the ricotta to use in the Crispy Spinach-Ricotta Latkes. I love just about anything potato based, but have never made latkes, so I was dying to try this recipe. It has very few ingredients, and I was able to throw it together quickly. I used frozen spinach, and was able to microwave and drain that and shred the Parmesan while the potato water was resting.
They were perfect! Unfortunately I only got to eat two of them. :-/ Fiona and my husband gobbled up most of the rest, and then Fiona claimed the leftovers for the next day’s school lunch before I could get to them. Darn it! Next time, double recipe.
Crispy Spinach-Ricotta Latkes
(Reprinted with permission from Jennifer Perillo and Running Press)
Makes 10 to 12 latkes
1 large russet potato, peeled
1/2 cup (95 grams) packed, very well-drained steamed spinach, chopped
1/2 cup (100 grams) Creamy Homemade Ricotta, well-drained (see page 32 in Jennifer’s book)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons (14 grams) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil, for frying
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Shred the potato into the bowl of ice water. When done, use a strainer or slotted spoon to transfer the shredded potato onto a kitchen towel – do not discard the water in the bowl. Gently squeeze the towel around the potatoes to absorb ay excess water. Let the reserved liquid sit undisturbed in the bowl for 10 minutes so the starch can settle to the bottom.
Meanwhile, mix together the spinach, ricotta, egg, and Parmesan in a deep bowl. Add the nutmeg, and season with the salt and pepper to taste. Carefully pour out the water from the reserved liquid bowl, making sure to save the starch that has collected at the bottom. Spoon the starch into the bowl with the spinach mixture. Add the shredded potatoes and give it a good stir to combine.
Fill a skillet with 1/4 inch (0.75 cm) of canola oil and heat over a medium flame. Drop generous tablespoonfuls of the spinach-potato mixture into the heated oil. Cook until golden, about 4 to 5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes until golden on the other side. Transfer to a parchment or paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt immediately, if desired. Serve warm.
Make Ahead: These also reheat with delicious results in a preheated 350 degree F (180 degree C) oven for about 6 minutes. Just flip them over halfway through. If you really want to plan ahead, make a double batch and freeze the cooled leftovers in a sip-top plastic bag. I’d also suggest these for brunch parties instead of roasted potatoes or home fries, since they’re an easy dish to prep in advance.
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