Homemade Ricotta

fresh homemade ricotta

I’ve always either avoided recipes calling for ricotta, or swapped the ricotta out for cottage cheese. The reason is probably not surprising—at $4 to $5 for a little cup, ricotta cheese just isn’t easy to smoosh into the budget.

Then I found out you can make your own ricotta, and it isn’t complicated at all. You only need three ingredients: whole milk, vinegar or lemon juice, and salt. That’s it. The result is a creamy fresh ricotta to use in all of your favorite recipes.

A gallon of whole milk produces roughly 4 cups (32 ounces) of ricotta. Since I buy milk at $2 per gallon or less, that puts one cup of ricotta at only $0.50. Now that I can fit in the budget! Now that ricotta can be a regular in our refrigerator without breaking the bank, I’ve found that there is a whole world of recipes opened up to me. Ricotta can be used in desserts, Italian dishes, baked goods, with fruit, well, it seems like almost anything!

Traditionally ricotta was made with fermented whey, which produced something a bit different, but many varieties of commercially-made ricotta cheeses are created using a similar method as the one I will describe. The biggest difference between homemade ricotta and store-bought is that yours will be fresher!

As with yogurt, you can technically make ricotta using lower-fat milks, but the yield and quality will vary. I like to make yogurt and ricotta from whole milk for both quality and quantity, so I have not tested homemade ricotta from low-fat or skim milk. Feel free to experiment on your own milk if you wish. We like our whole-milk products here 🙂

What you need:

A mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or several paper towels

8 cups whole milk

1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice

½ tsp salt

First, line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth or several paper towels and set it over a bowl. Set it aside for now.

Pour the milk into a large saucepan or double boiler. Heat the milk to 185* F. At this point it will look foamy and steamy but it won’t be boiling. If it does boil, just remove it from the heat. If you happen to burn the milk on the bottom of the pan, don’t fret. As long as you don’t scrape it up into the milk you can still have perfectly good ricotta.

When the milk reaches 185*, remove it from the heat and add the vinegar or lemon juice and salt. Give it a gentle stir, just enough to distribute the vinegar. Then leave it undisturbed for 5-10 minutes until you see the milk separate into white curds and clear yellow whey. If the mixture still looks milky or not distinctly separated after 10 minutes, sprinkle in a couple more tablespoons of vinegar.

how to make ricotta cheese

When your milk has clearly separated into curds and whey, use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds out of the whey and place them in the lined strainer until only the whey is left in the pan. Let the ricotta strain for 5-20 minutes depending on how firm or dry you want your cheese. I usually only let mine drain for about 5 minutes. If you let it get drier than you want, just whisk some whey back into the cheese.

how to make ricotta

If there are any small curds remaining in the pan, carefully pour the whey into your lined strainer to strain them out.

homemade ricotta

Use your fresh ricotta immediately or keep in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.


Homemade Ricotta


  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup white distilled vinegar, or lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt


Line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth or several paper towels and sit it over a bowl. Set aside.

In a large saucepan or a double boiler, heat milk over medium heat until it reaches 185* F. It will appear foamy and steamy but shouldn't be boiling. If it begins to boil, remove it from the heat.*

When the milk reaches 185*, remove from the heat and immediately add the salt and vinegar or lemon juice. Give it a gentle stir, just enough to distribute the vinegar. Then let it sit undisturbed for 5-10 minutes.

After resting the milk should have separated into white curds and clear yellow whey. If it still looks milky or not distinctly separated, add a few more tablespoons of vinegar.

Use a slotted spoon to skim the curds out of the whey and place them in your lined strainer. Let the cheese drain for 5-20 minutes until your ricotta reaches the consistency you want. The longer you drain it, the thicker and drier your cheese will be. If you let it drain longer than you want, just whisk some whey back into the curds.

If there are small curds remaining in the whey, pour it through the lined strainer to separate them from the whey.

Use the ricotta immediately or store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Yield: About 2 cups.

*If you burn the bottom of the milk, don't scrape it up. Your cheese will be fine as long as you don't scrape the burned part up into the heated milk.
creamy avocado cilantro lime dressing

Creamy Avocado-Lime Dressing

creamy avocado cilantro lime dressing

I never ate salads as a kid. There was a divide in our family—there were the salad eaters and the steamed veggie eaters, and of course mom and dad, who ate both. It seems like most of the time we had salad and steamed veggies on the table so everyone was happy (well, I don’t know about mom who went to all that work…)

It seems like just about everyone who gives advice for helping kids eat veggies (or anything, really) suggests ranch dressing. Apparently it’s the universal kiddie dip. Well guess what? I never liked ranch as a kid. Nope. Everyone I knew did, but not me. No salads, no dressing.

Fortunately I had an epiphany in my mid-teens. My mom made us a salad dressing one night. It was a sweet-tangy onion vinaigrette, and I discovered that salad is AWESOME. I changed my ways from that day forward and now I would rather eat a good salad than just about anything else.

So in a nutshell, the secret to a great salad is a great dressing. If you open my fridge you will find zero bottles of dressing. Salad dressing must be created in my kitchen. I promise I don’t make my own ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce or most other condiments though. I am somewhat normal (maybe? I hope?)

Most dressings that I make honestly only take a few minutes to whip up. It’s just a matter of tossing a few things in a blender. This one is no exception. Only 6 ingredients and a whirl away to a dressing that will have you licking the blender clean.

Cilantro-lime ranch is always a favorite for Latin-themed salads, and I love it. Unfortunately mayonnaise-based dressings aren’t the healthiest choice to slather on that beautiful green salad (not that that ever stops me). This avocado-lime dressing tastes creamy and indulgent but is also very nutritious, made with avocado and plain yogurt. The cilantro and lime flavors are dazzling, with delicious garlicky undertones. I think I actually would go for this dressing over cilantro-lime ranch most of the time.

It’s hard to imagine what wouldn’t taste good with creamy avocado-lime dressing. It’s delicious with grilled meat or fish, as a dip for fresh veggies, a sandwich spread, or drizzled over a fresh green salad or taco salad. It would even shine as a dip for tortilla chips. I’m not above eating it by the spoonful.

Next week I’ll share a great full-meal salad that features this avocado-lime dressing.

creamy avocado cilantro lime dressing

Creamy Avocado-Lime Dressing


  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup plain yogurt*
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ½ a ripe avocado
  • 1 cup cilantro, leaves and stems
  • Juice of ½ a lime


Place ingredients in the jar of a blender in the order given. Blend until almost smooth and serve. Add a little more water if you want a thinner dressing. Store leftovers in the refrigerator and use within a few days.

*If using thick Greek yogurt, reduce the amount of yogurt and increase the amount of water to achieve the desired consistency.
How to Soften Butter Quickly No Melting No Microwave

How to Soften Butter Quickly

How to Soften Butter Quickly No Melting No Microwave

Pretty much every baked recipe out there (minus pie crust/biscuit type doughs) calls for softened butter, yes? Do I ever think to get my butter out hours before I bake cookies? Of course not. Cookies are an impulsive decision.

Further, I’m not one to leave a stick of butter on the counter, perpetually waiting for the moment next week when I have fresh-baked bread to spread it on. And we all know what happens when you try to spread cold butter on bread. Holy smashed bread. I mean, hole-y smashed bread.

For years I tried to fix this problem by putting my poor stick of butter in the microwave for a few seconds. The butter be like, “No, Cuba, not the nukes!” Because let’s be honest, does anyone ever get perfect, soft spreadable butter from the microwave? Not me. Even if it looks proper, it has cleverly hidden pockets of radioactive melted butter hiding in its interior. And once butter is melted, you cannot restore it to a soft spreadable (or cream-able) state. It is forever altered. My slightly better alternative when baking was to place the stick in my stand mixer bowl and forcibly pulverize the cold butter into oblivion. This was marginally successful but generally resulted in a lumpy sugar mixture instead of a nice fluffy one.

Then one day I had a stroke of brilliance. I devised a way to soften butter quickly without melting or hammering it. And I tell you, I did not even consult the Great Brain (Google) to come up with this. Yep, me and my little brain figured it out on our own. Now I get perfectly softened butter in a matter of 10 minutes (yay cookies!). Some of you may live in climates where 10 minutes on the counter will achieve these results, but alas, not I. All day on the counter will still give me cold butter…

Anyway, here’s how you do it.

You need butter (obviously), a plastic zip-top baggie, a bowl or tall glass, and some warm water.

what you need to soften butter

First, zip the butter in the baggie, pressing out as much air as possible.

zip butter in baggie

Next fill a bowl or tall glass half way or so with lukewarm water. The water should feel just slightly warm to the touch; if it is very warm you will melt the butter. I use water in the whereabouts of 80-85*F. Butter melts at 90-95*. You’ll know if you didn’t get the water warm enough because your butter won’t be soft after 10-15 minutes.

Place the butter-baggie in the water. Let it sit for about 10-15 minutes. Turn the butter baggie once or twice during that time so that the floating side gets to contact the water.

put butter baggie in water bowl

Meanwhile, prep the rest of your goodie-making ingredients or set the table. Or pick up play-dough off the floor. Whatever.

When you come back, take the butter out of the bag and carefully unwrap it. You will have nice, soft, spreadable, mixable butter. Problem solved, the problem is solved, we solved the problem, now everything is awesome…butter butter butter.

how to soften butter quickly

Quick Easy Strawberry Sauce

10 Minute Strawberry Sauce

Strawberry Sauce with Waffles

My first memory of strawberry pie was when my grandma and grandpa (father’s side) came to visit my family when I was 9 years old. My family was living in South Florida at the time while my dad went to optometry school, and all of our relatives lived far away in Utah, so this was a very special treat. It was my youngest sister’s birthday that week, and it was strawberry season. It was rumored that Grandpa made the best strawberry pies, and he lived up to his reputation with two delicious strawberry pies for the occasion. I don’t know if I’ll ever taste a strawberry pie as good as those were!

Me in Florida

That is myself as a strawberry-pie-enjoying child in South Florida.

My next memory of strawberry pie was on my 21st birthday. I was nursing my fuzzy 3-week-old baby boy and not even dreaming of making myself a birthday treat when my mother and father-in-law showed up at our apartment with a beautiful strawberry pie! This one had a homemade butter crust instead of the traditional graham cracker crust, and it was amazing. There is truly not a better smell than that of newborn baby mingled with fresh strawberry pie. Don’t worry, I didn’t eat my son. He’s a thriving little boy now—and he loves strawberries!


And that’s me the morning after delivering my son, incidentally eating waffles with strawberry sauce for breakfast. Not looking as energetic as the 9-year-old, eh?

I have never once made a strawberry pie myself. Although you will find some great desserts on the blog, I’m almost never in the mood to make a fancy dessert just for our family. It’s hard enough just to get breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in for me! And that is why I love this strawberry sauce—it’s super quick and easy but I can drizzle it over waffles, pancakes, ice cream, yogurt, lemonade, you name it, and feel like I’m eating strawberry pie. It’s great over these waffles with a dollop of yogurt on top.

It’s strawberry season right now, so grab yourself a carton of strawberries and indulge in this strawberry sauce. It literally only takes 10 minutes to make and features only 3 ingredients.


Quick Easy Strawberry Sauce

10 Minute Strawberry Sauce


  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract


Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes. When done, you can serve it as is, mash it with a potato masher, or process with a blender to the consistency you want. I like to use an immersion blender and make it smooth like a syrup. Refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for later use.

Makes about 2 cups.

Linked at: Living Well Spending Less, The Weekend Retreat

Zesty Cucumber and Feta Dip

Zesty Cucumber & Feta Dip

I struggle to find uses for cucumbers. Zesty Cucumber Feta DipSince we get most of our fruits and vegetables from a produce co-op, I sometimes have three large cucumbers in the fridge. We aren’t frequent salad eaters because the kids aren’t fans. So what do I do?

Well, normally I would cut them into wedges and use them as an excuse to eat this buttermilk ranch dressing. Alas, a few weeks ago I found myself with two giant cucumbers AND NO MAYONNAISE. See the problem here? No mayo means no ranch dressing. And I’m not one to snack on plain cucumbers unless I’m really desperate.

So I searched the web for some ideas, knowing that I did have plain yogurt and sour cream in the fridge. The end result of my experimentations was this great dip—a flavorful combination of feta cheese, cucumber, and zesty garlic and chives. I made this using plain Greek yogurt, which is very thick. If you want to try it with regular plain yogurt, I would recommend starting with less oil, or alternately, place 1 ½ cups of regular yogurt in a mesh strainer lined with a cheesecloth, thin kitchen towel, or coffee filter and let it drain over a bowl for an hour or two to make a thicker yogurt.

This tangy dip is great with vegetables, but I’ll admit to liking it best with some buttery crackers. It would also make a great sandwich spread.

A word of warning—this dip has some real zing. If you prefer food of the milder variety, you may want to stick with the more standard cucumber-ranch dip. Unless you have no mayonnaise, and then I say good luck to you. Make pickles?

Enjoy this zesty feta-cucumber-garlic dip, and be warned, it’s hard to stop eating it once you start. I finished off almost an entire recipe of this stuff by myself.

Zesty Cucumber and Feta Dip

Zesty Cucumber and Feta Dip


  • 1 cup shredded cucumber
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup light sour cream
  • ¼ cup canola oil (or olive oil)
  • 2 TBS red wine vinegar
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ tsp dried dill
  • 1 ½ tsp dried chives
  • ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • Additional salt to taste


Place the cucumber in a colander or mesh strainer positioned over a bowl or sink. Toss the cucumber gently with the salt. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes to allow excess water to drain out of the cucumber.

In a bowl whisk together the yogurt, sour cream, oil, vinegar, dill and chives. Stir in the cucumber and feta cheese. Add additional salt to taste. Thin with milk or buttermilk if desired. Chill for at least a few hours before serving for the best flavor.

Makes about 3 cups.

Linked at: Miz Helen’s Country Cottage, Living Well Spending Less, The Weekend Re-Treat


Sweet and Spicy Melon Salsa

If you’ve never tried watermelon fresh-melon-salsa in a salsa before you’re missing out! I had my doubts before I tried it the first time, but now I’m converted! It’s my new favorite ingredient in salsa.

One of the great things about a fresh salsa is that it really dresses up a simple grilled meat. You can marinade meat and then grill it, but I have a hard time thinking in advance for marinades. A yummy salsa is perfect for my last minute cooking style because I can get away with just salting and peppering the meat and throwing it on the grill, and the salsa adds all the bright flavors I want.

I created this recipe to showcase two juicy summer melons, cantaloupe and watermelon, along with some kickin’ jalapeño flavor from the garden. Green onion, bell pepper, and tomatoes round it out for a robust salsa flavor, and for me, cilantro is a must. The chili powder gives the salsa a unique warmth. I served this with grilled pork chops last week, and it would also be delicious over chicken, fish or steak, or served with tortilla chips.

Incidentally, it was a warm, sunny summer day here in East Idaho when I went out to grill the said pork chops, but in the course of 15 minutes became windy, cold, and threatening. In spite of this, my toddler insisted we should eat outside (and we acquiesced because of course the toddler should be in charge of such decisions). We brought out his high chair, and a basket for the baby to sit and play in, and our dinner. Then it started raining. Thankfully we were under the carport. But you know what, at least the fresh melon salsa tasted like summer even if we didn’t feel very warm!

Does the idea of watermelon in salsa sound crazy to you? Try it and tell me what you think!


Sweet and Spicy Melon Salsa

Yield: about 5 cups


  • 2 cups watermelon, diced
  • 2 cups cantaloupe, diced
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 3 TBS chopped cilantro


Whisk together the lime zest and juice, chili powder, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir gently to combine. Refrigerate for at least one hour and stir before serving.


For a milder salsa, reduce or omit the jalapeno.