Monthly Habit: Getting More Adventurous in the Kitchen

Last month, Taryn decided that she would try out some new recipes. From simple things, like making her own granola to more complicated dishes, like homemade raviolis, she’ll explain what went great and what needs another try. Below Bethany interviews Taryn on everything she learned.

B: What did you choose to make from scratch and why?

T: I made granola, oat milk, paneer, ricotta, raviolis, and pizza dough from scratch.

I wanted to do a couple items that I buy often but thought would be easy to make from scratch, so I chose granola and oat milk. I picked oat milk over nut milks because oats are more affordable, and I wanted to see if I could make something that was quite a bit cheaper than buying it from the store. I did my research and ended up using this recipe for oat milk. It was the easiest recipe I made overall. So easy in fact, that if you wake up one morning and realize you’re out of milk, you probably have enough time that morning to make some. It takes about 5-10 minutes, depending on if you have your ingredients and blender easily accessible or not. It tasted more watered down than store-bought oat milk, but mixed with coffee or cereal, I thought it tasted just fine. When I made it a second time, I let the oats soak for about ten extra minutes and that helped add more flavor. Some of the recipes warn that soaking for too long will create a slimy texture, but since I don’t plan on drinking it plain, I never noticed anything off. It does separate in the fridge, so just shake it before using it.

Most of the granola I buy from the store (I usually opt for a cheaper brand) usually taste a little artificial, so I wanted to make my own that tasted better but was more affordable than the nicer brands at the grocery stores. I ended up using a combination of several recipes, and it’s one of the main reasons I like making granola now. It’s very forgiving, and you can easily take out or add items you have in your pantry. I used cashews because that was the only nut I had, and I added more cinnamon because I like an extra kick. I’ll admit, granola doesn’t get me super excited, but warm granola right our of the oven was way better than I could have imagined. That alone will get me to make it on more weekend mornings.

Next round of granola I make, I will definitely add dried fruit. I also think I would like coconut flakes or pecans.

Next, I made two recipes that have the same ingredients, but are from two completely different cuisines: ricotta and paneer. Ricotta is an Italian creamy, spreadable cheese with a very mild flavor. It’s often used in lasagna and raviolis (I used it in my ravioli recipe later on in this post). Paneer is an Indian cheese made the same way as ricotta, but pressed into a block then cut into cubes. It’s most famously used in saag paneer (an Indian spinach dish).

The picture above would look the same whether you’re making ricotta or paneer. You just need whole milk and lemon juice (some recipes call for different acids). I used this recipe for ricotta and this recipe for paneer. You just simply boil the milk, add the acid, stir until the whey and curds separate and drain using a cheesecloth. Ricotta was definitely easier, because there’s not the extra step of forming the block of cheese. But I thought that’s what made the homemade paneer extra worth it. It was super fresh and had really good flavor. When I mixed it into the spinach sauce to make saag paneer, some of the cubes crumbled. But it was obvious where I made the mistake in forming the cheese and seems like it would be an easy fix for next time.

Using the fresh ricotta, I also made my own fresh ravioli dough and used this recipe for the dough and filling. The dough was originally really dry using the measurements from this recipe, so that started off making the recipe difficult. Then I tried to hand roll and hand cut everything. I never got the dough thin enough (even when I thought I did), and the ravioli ended up way too thick. We still ate them and they had great flavor, but we were full from four raviolis because they were so thick.

Lastly, I made my own pizza dough. I didn’t need any special equipment for this recipe (except for a kitchen thermometer to check the water temp), and besides it taking awhile to make and let rest (about 2 hours for the entire process), it was quite simple. I used this recipe, and it worked out really well. Only thing we did wrong is not make the center thin enough. The pizza cooked through nicely, but the center cuts were thicker than we wanted.

B: Did you need any special equipment for any of these recipes, like a hand mixer, Kitchen Aid, etc? Were there any tools you bought specifically to make a certain dish or were you able to make due with what you already had?

I used a high-power blender for my oat milk, but that was it for larger equipment. I did use a kitchen thermometer for testing the temperature of the water for the pizza dough. I made the raviolis and pizza dough by hand (no mixer) and it wasn’t hard at all. Rolling the raviolis out was a different story, more on that later. I did also have a ravioli cutter, but it was too small so I ended up cutting them by hand. The only thing I bought for these dishes was cheesecloth for the paneer and ricotta. Unless you’re okay using an old shirt, I don’t think you could make those recipes without a cheesecloth. I ordered mine online ($8.95) and have plenty leftover for future dishes or crafts.

I do not own a pasta press, and I really thought I would be fine without one. Because two sheets of pasta are put together for raviolis, it really amplified the fact that my hand-rolled pasta was too thick. I think if I would have made a pappardelle or a tagliatelle, I might have gotten away without using a pasta press.

B: Which item was the easiest to make? Which was the most difficult?

The oat milk was the easiest, but all the others were pretty simple as well, besides the raviolis. I picked dishes with minimal ingredients, so if I messed up, it would be easier for me to pinpoint my mistake. The raviolis were rough though. Not only did I feel like the recipe wasn’t great, I never got them thin enough to not have a weird texture. I took a cooking class several years ago and we made pappardelle from scratch (ribbon-shaped pasta) and it worked out great, but doing it on my own was a different story.

Everything was really fun to make though. Sure, the raviolis were a little intimidating, but I still figured out the dough and know I can make other pastas now. The ricotta was way easier than I thought it would be.

B: Would you be able to make the pizza dough or ravioli a few days in advance? If I have a busy week ahead, I will sometimes prepare my weeknight meals over the weekend.

I made the dough and ravioli for same day use, but I looked up if it’s easy to freeze these doughs. For pizza dough, there are several articles about it, like this one. It says just take the pizza dough from the freezer and put in the fridge for 12 hours. Similar concept with raviolis. This article has a recipe and a option on how to freeze. The nice thing about frozen homemade raviolis, you can take frozen raviolis and put them straight into a pot of boiling water. Honestly, I wish I would have thought about this. I spent a lot of time making these and being able to eat them twice without double with work would have been awesome.

When I was thinking about these recipes, I planned to make them over the weekends and for them take up a good chunk of my day. It was more of my activity for the day, instead of me just making a normal meal. So I didn’t really mind if something took a couple hours to make. As I work on new recipes from scratch, I will focus more on making items that would be used as an ingredient and would hold up well however I need to store them. Recipes like different sauces and spice mixes.

B: What would you say is worth making from scratch and what do you feel people are better off buying from the store?

I plan on making all these recipes again, but I especially think the ricotta, paneer, and pizza dough are worth making from home. Warm, fresh granola was amazing, but after it cooled, it tasted like most other granola. And with granola being so popular, it’s probably not something I’ll make every week. The freshness of the ricotta and paneer really made it worth cooking them. It wasn’t cheap, because the recipes use a lot of milk, but these are also recipes I wouldn’t use every week, so I feel like it’s worth it to make them special. And lastly, the pizza dough was just really fun. Frozen or store-bought pizza dough usually tastes just fine, but I really enjoyed make the pizza dough and picking out what to top it with.

B: Do you plan to continue making more stuff from scratch, and if so, what do you plan to make next?

Yes, definitely. I had a lot of fun making all these recipes. Now that we are home from another month because of the Coronavirus, I want to make more things that may need some prep during the day that I wouldn’t normally be able to make, like other kinds of bread. I also want to try making my own red wine vinegar, more pickled sides, and really nail down a good recipe for weeknight butter chicken. I will share what I pick and let you know what I think it worth making from home.

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