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.
Slow Cooker Beef and Bacon Smoky Beans

Beef & Bacon Smoky Beans (Slow Cooker)

These beans are a serious eat.Smoky Beans1 I know I’ve mentioned before how awesome beans are, but I’ll say it again. Beans (especially the dried version) are high in protein and iron, nutritious, filling, and dirt cheap. Bring on the beans.

Baked beans are a common potluck side, and I usually take an obligatory spoonful. But these are not your picnic canned pork n’ beans. They are not even Bush’s Baked Beans. They are infinitely better, mouth-wateringly delicious slow-cooked beans, perfect for a winter evening.

This slow cooker dish features three varieties of beans. It is completely from scratch; no canned baked beans are called for. Feel free to substitute according to your tastes. It’s filled out with onions, bell peppers, extra-lean ground beef, and bacon, and the sauce is the perfect balance of sweet and smoky flavor.

I’ve honestly never seen beans devoured in such quantities as these smoky beans. They’re so hearty, I like to serve them as a main dish, with plenty of fresh greens or veggies and dip (like this one or this one), and fresh fruit on the side. And no one ever complains when this Sweet Buttermilk Cornbread hits the table.

If you’ve got a potluck or family gathering coming up, beef and bacon smoky beans are a sure crowd-pleaser. The prep for this dish is very simple, and a few hours later you’re set with a slow cooker full of the best baked beans ever. Enjoy some warm, loaded and smoky beans on a chilly winter day!

Have a merry Christmas, everyone. I’ll be back next week with a New Year’s recipe for ya!

Slow Cooker Beef and Bacon Smoky Beans

Beef & Bacon Smoky Beans (Slow Cooker)


  • 6 oz bacon, cooked and chopped into bite-size pieces
  • ¾ lb super-lean ground beef (93% lean)
  • 1 medium or large onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 12 oz tomato sauce
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 TBS dry mustard
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • 2 TBS liquid smoke
  • 2 TBS Worcestershire sauce*
  • 5 cups pinto beans, fully cooked, or 3 (15 oz) cans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 ½ cups kidney beans, fully cooked, or 1 (15 oz) can, rinsed and drained
  • 1 ½ cups black beans, fully cooked, or 1 (15 oz) can, rinsed and drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste


**If you want the beans to have a lot of sauce, double all of the ingredients listed after the bell peppers**

In a skillet, brown the beef, onions, and bell pepper until the onions are tender and the beef is cooked through. While the beef is browning, whisk together the tomato sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, dry mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, liquid smoke, and Worcestershire sauce in a large slow cooker. Add the beans, bacon, and contents of the skillet into the slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for about 4 hours. Season with salt and pepper if desired, and serve warm.

Makes approximately 3 ½ quarts.

*You can substitute 2 TBS soy sauce and a pinch of cloves for the Worcestershire sauce if desired.
Creamy Jalapeno Spaghetti Squash

Creamy Jalapeno Spaghetti Squash

This is one of my favorite vegetable dishes ever. Creamy Jalapeno Spaghetti Squash And really, how can you go wrong with cheesy cream sauce topped with more cheese? What makes it special, though, is the jalapeno-chedder flavor that dominates the dish without having much heat. If you like the flavor of jalapenos but not the burn, this is a great way to get that taste. The squash makes a fantastic mild medium for indulging in creamy, jalapeno-pepper-and-cheese heaven.

There are two reasons that you can achieve the jalapeno flavor here without having to brave the heat. First is that you won’t actually end up with peppers in the final dish. You’ll cut them up and then place them in a pan of milk, which you will heat to scalding and then let the peppers steep. This allows the jalapeno flavor to be diffused in the milk, but when the process is over, you’ll strain out the pepper pieces and discard them. Second, the large amount of dairy in the recipe counteracts the capsaicin in the peppers. However, it is still possible to end up with a hot flavor if you use large, strong jalapenos, so choose them wisely. If keeping things really mild is important, look for peppers without white streaks (called striations) which generally suggest a more mature pepper, and when you cut them, sniff them. The more tickle you get in your throat, the hotter the pepper.

If, on the other hand, you want your spaghetti squash to pack a punch, buy the peppers with striations, and before you cut them, roll them on the counter, pressing them with the palm of your hand. This helps to release the hot pepper oils from the seeds and membranes into the flesh of the pepper.

My mom likes to bring a pan of jalapeno spaghetti squash to Thanksgiving dinner, and if it comes to it, the mashed potatoes must concede their position on my plate to make room for the squash! Unlike butternut squash or pumpkin, spaghetti squash doesn’t have much flavor on its own. This makes it less likely to deter squash haters. The squash is simply a pasta-like canvas for the cheddar cheese and jalapeno cream.

If you’re planning an Easter dinner, this would make a delicious side to smoked ham, or any other roasted meat!

Creamy Jalapeno Spaghetti Squash

Creamy Jalapeno Spaghetti Squash

adapted from My Recipes


  • 1 spaghetti squash (about 3 lbs)
  • 2 cups lowfat milk
  • 2 to 3 jalapenos, seeds and membranes removed and roughly chopped
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 3 TBS flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded, divided


Preheat oven to 350* and lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish.

Wash the spaghetti squash and poke several holes in the skin with a fork. Microwave on high for 10 minutes. The squash should be tender and easily pierced with a fork. If it isn't, microwave in 1-minute intervals until tender. Let squash sit until cool enough to handle.

Meahwhile, place milk and jalapenos in a medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges of the milk. Remove from heat, cover the pan and let sit for 15 minutes. Strain and discard the jalapeno pieces.

When squash is cool enough to handle, remove the seeds and discard. Then use a fork to scrape the strands out of the skin and into a large bowl. Press the squash between paper towels or a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth to remove excess moisture.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and salt and cook it smells like cooked piecrust, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the jalapeno-flavored milk. Continue whisking until the mixture thickens slightly, 3-5 minutes. Pour the mixture over the squash and stir together along with 1/2 cup cheese. Transfer to baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and bake for another 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serves 8

Linked at: Living Well Spending Less

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

Simple, creamy, low-fat refried beans cooked entirely in the slow cooker.

Simple Slow Cooker Refried Beans

You know what I love about dried beans? They’re cheaper than dirt. Creamy low-fat refried beans cooked entirely in the slow cooker. You know what I don’t love about dried beans? You have to cook them for-ev-er or they taste like dirt. Rocky dirt.

The convenience of canned beans is great, but since I can get a pound of dry beans (which yields as much as about 4-5 cans of beans) for less than the price of one can…well, the dry beans win most of the time. Admittedly, dry beans are also a little more nutritious, with substantially less sodium—a 1/2 cup serving of plain pinto beans that started dry has almost no sodium while a 1/2 cup serving of canned pinto beans has around 200 mg of sodium, and slightly less nutrients.

Since I mostly stay at home with my kids, I can afford the prep time with dry beans, but the difficult part for me is planning ahead. This is the primary reason for a distinct deficit in my family’s bean consumption.

Enter the slow cooker.

Unfortunately, I have trouble using the slow cooker for the same reason I have trouble cooking beans, namely, planning ahead. However, it at least means that I can go about my activities without monitoring a boiling pot and even leave the house without interrupting the cooking.

I’m attempting to increase the number of bean recipes in my staple collection, and this recipe for slow cooker refried beans has become a favorite. I was never a fan of refried beans until I had them at a Mexican restaurant, creamy and swimming in melted cheese. Then I was a big fan. The canned variety of refried beans is in my personal estimation, glop, so I was excited to discover this simple and tasty method of creating refried beans at home. They don’t even require “frying” of any sort, so they are less fatty.

Here’s how it works. You have two options:

Option #1 (With Soak): Sort the beans. That means looking through them for little rocks. Yes, rocks really like to hide with beans. Rinse them, pour them into a large container (I just use my slow cooker without turning it on) and cover them with water. Cover the pot and let them sit overnight. In the morning, drain off the water and proceed with the recipe.

Soaking will shorten your cooking time and make the beans the easiest on the digestive tract.

Option #2 (No-Soak Method): Sort the beans and rinse them. Place them in the slow cooker and proceed with the recipe. This option requires a longer cooking time to obtain soft beans, but it does work with pinto beans and black beans. Never use this method with kidney beans. Always follow the soaking directions on the package for kidney beans because they contain a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin, which will make you sick. Certain other beans contain low levels of this toxin as well.

I like to make these refried beans creamy with evaporated milk and no butter (lower fat but still with rich flavor), but you could certainly use fresh milk and melted butter if you want.

At the end of the day, enjoy these creamy, flavorful, low-fat refried beans, then freeze the leftovers in portions for later use.

Simple, creamy, low-fat refried beans cooked entirely in the slow cooker.

Simple Slow Cooker Refried Beans


  • 3 cups dry pinto beans or black beans
  • 9 cups water
  • 5 chicken bouillon cubes or 5 tsp chicken base, or replace 5 cups of the water with chicken broth
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • half of a yellow onion, peeled, but not cut up
  • 1 cup evaporated canned milk (or fresh)
  • ¼ c. melted butter, optional
  • Enough reserved juices from the pot to achieve desired consistency


Rinse and sort beans; soak if desired. Place beans in a large slow cooker and cover with the water. Stir in the chicken base, garlic powder, and salt and sit the onion on top of the beans. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until beans are very soft and fall apart when mashed (soaking will decrease cooking time). Undercooked beans will be grainy, so be sure to allow plenty of time.

When beans are done, remove the onion and drain the beans. Don’t throw out the cooking juices. Add the milk to the pot, and butter if desired. I prefer to use canned milk, and no butter. Mash the beans with a potato masher or process with an immersion blender to the desired consistency. Add cooking liquid to the beans until you reach the texture you want.

*You can add any seasonings/flavors you want to this recipe to customize your refried beans. Just don’t add acidic ingredients, such as lime juice, or sugary ingredients, until the beans are fully cooked or the beans will resist softening.

Freeze leftovers in portions for later use.

Makes around 2 quarts of refried beans.

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


Sweet Buttermilk Cornbread

Over the last few years, sweet-buttermilk-cornbread I’ve tried a number of different cornbread recipes, trying to find one that was delicious while not terribly unhealthy. After about 7 different recipes, I gave up. I’m afraid I just can’t reconcile myself with any other cornbread recipe than the one I grew up eating. And no, it’s not healthy. It has so much butter and sugar in it that it’s almost a dessert.

Growing up, we often ate this cornbread with my mom’s homemade baked beans. Two items were highly sought after–the sugared salt pork on top of the beans and the cornbread. We had a rule about how much of your beans you had to eat before you could have more cornbread. There was even honey butter to slather on it. Yeah, my mom is awesome.

If you peruse the web much for cornbread recipes, you’ll find that people tend to have very specific ideas of what cornbread should be like. Some like it not-too-sweet, some like it dry so that it soaks up lots of butter, some like it sweet (some folks even make theirs with a cake mix in the batter), and still others like to mix in chilies or creamed corn.

This particular recipe for cornbread is based on my mother’s recipe, and it is sweet and buttery, with a tender, cake-like texture. I made it for my roommates my first semester of college, and the entire pan was gone almost in the blink of an eye. Be sure not to over-bake it to make sure it doesn’t dry out–pull it out of the oven when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a couple crumbs attached. Enjoy it with some fresh-whipped honey butter or a hot bowl of chili–perfect for a blustery fall evening!


Sweet Buttermilk Cornbread


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (spooned lightly and leveled with a knife)
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk


Preheat oven to 375*.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Ad eggs and cornmeal and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to egg mixture alternating with the buttermilk, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Bake in a greased 8" pan for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached. Be careful not to over-bake!

This recipe is linked at: Flour Me with Love, Skip to My Lou, A Pinch of Joy


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.