Tuesday, 30 June 2009

More notes on this cheese-making malarkey

So, let's start with the edifying and good: Last night I made 2 tiny simple supper dishes just for me - broad beans with bacon and cream, and the first tiny courgettes avec flowers, sliced, fried briefly in garlic, tipped onto toasted sourdough, drizzled with yoghurt and gaily scattered with basil and mint. Delicious. A triumph, my dear.

All of which is a delaying tactic, you may think. Well, you're right. Where were we? Oh yes, watching the goats cheese drain its life blood away over 2 days and 2 nights. So drained was it, that the end result was a mere 100g of cheese. Delicate, delicious, fresh, not very goaty-y, but definitely on the side of paucity. Now I am at a loss to explain this, following the instructions as exactly as I did. I even took a quick survey of the temperature of my finger to see if I was too unstable to estimate body temperature, but no, I'm reasonably normal. I went back to the ingredients, and lo - the rennet's expiry date is July 2009. Now my instinct is to say it's a bit like dried yeast, which gets panicky at least a month before its expiry date and so our baking cupboard is littered with half-finished packs of fainthearted yeast. It's the only thing I can think of, so I am going to email old Hugh and see if they think this could be the reason....

Anyway, back to the story. This somewhat surprising result left me 650g of cheese to the worse. Consequently, it had to be bought, which - let me add - ain't cheap, so if you're making this recipe with bought goats cheese, think carefully, cos it came to about £15 in the cheese shop (not a famous one). It was salted, but not too much and fresh and tangy in a way/whey (ha) that would hopefully enliven my pallid contribution.

Mixed the goats cheeses, 2 whisked eggs, 75g sugar (no semolina or oatmeal - who wants a sandy cheesecake?) and baked it (without base) in the oven for about 25 mins at I think 170C. And the result was good. It was a little dense, but that was to be expected and quite tangy, but cooking does bring out the goat taste, to the extent that MCD - who is an ardent goat fan on many levels - felt it a bit OTT and didn't really come back for seconds.

I will be posting a photo of the finished result. Feelings on this particular experiment - far too much hassle for a cheesecake, but for making your own cheese, it's low-effort and easy. Just watch your rennet.

Friday, 26 June 2009

More notes... An update

We may have a success on our hands... The cheese has dripped for 2 days now and I am left with a handful of curd. There was a lot of whey. I have thrown that out, for a lack of pigs to throw it at. I haven't tasted the cheese yet, but my sister assures me it smells goat-y. I take this as a good sign.

Tomorrow I can make the cake.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Notes from an amateur cheesemaker

I've found this short series of River Cottage a bit more engaging than they have been of late, although I wish I could get my hands on Hugh's scripts - good grief... Anyway, last week I was completely inspired by his goats cheese making and turning said cheese into a baked cheescake.
I downloaded the recipe from the site and it's so simple - goats milk and rennet. That's it.

So, ingredients purchased, I got cheese-ifying. I heated the milk to a body-temperature 37C, removed it from the heat and added the rennet according to the instructions - 10 drops per pint, therefore roughly 35 drops. I gave it a quick stir and went off to read in the garden for the recommended 15 minutes while the curd and whey separated.

20 minutes later, the whole is still decidedly liquid. I checked the instructions, made a phone call to my colleague, who's done this kind of thing before, whose advice was 'give it a bit longer and add some lemon juice' and left it for another 20 minutes. I tried slicing a knife through it and the knife scored remained - looking more hopeful. I tested a bit by adding a spoonful to a sieve (on the premise that if it doesn't slip through the sieve, we're good to go with the muslin...). It held. So, dear reader (I can feel the hot breath of your anticipation on the back of my neck... go away), I lined a sieve with muslin and spooned it in. I wasn't hopeful - like really loose blancmange. I'm not entirely sure Hugh's estimate is spot-on - Christ knows what he put in his, although I wouldn't blame the cheese for getting a move on if it thought it was on TV.

I let it drip through for a good half-hour before taking it upstairs and hanging it from an elaborate contraption involving a bamboo cane, a stepladder, the bed and a large bowl - it's still there this morning. There is a lot of whey, people, a lot of whey.... And not much bloody cheese in the muslin, so my doubts about the rennet remain and now my fear is I shall have to sully my virginal goats cheese with shop-bought...

I'm making the cake itself on Saturday for a BBQ. At this stage, it may just be a small mound of goats cheese and some poached gooseberries for pudding, but you never know. I may be able to do a Marie Antoinette and let there be cake.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Naan, Pitta - whatever, it's good

It's a very quick and easy flatbread recipe - good for dunking, stuffing and even discus throwing when stale - hours of amusement from just 4 ingredients.

250g self-raising flour
2 tbsp bio yoghurt (the yoghurt-ier the better, if you know what I mean)
1/2 tbsp salt (3/4 tbsp is a tad too salty for my taste, you may feel differently)
About 100ml water

Mix together the first 3 ingredients, then slowly add the water and stop when you have a soft, slightly sticky dough - you may not need all of it - I added a tad too much and spent a jolly 10 minutes peeling it off my hands and back into the bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave it to rest for 30 mins or so. It won't rise, btw.

When you're ready to bake, roll out amounts the size of an egg into a pleasing shape - perhaps oval - about 1/2 cm thick. Heat a dry frying pan till really quite hot, then throw it in, give it 30 seconds, turn it over and then keep warm in the oven till needed. I drizzled mine with sumac and olive oil and served them with bbq-d quail rubbed with ras-el-hanout, hummous (I only make my own now - more later), bbq-d aubergine slices drizzled with pomegranate molasses, salad and I think that was it.

They re-heat the next day v successfully either wrapped in foil in the oven or just heated in the frying pan again. And as I said, you can serve them with curry or take them down the Middle Eastern route.

Friday, 12 June 2009

A truly happy Friday picture

So fabulous - Meet Beldaran and her new father Ulrok - she was rejected by her pack and he's given her a comforting paw. Their big smiles made me smile in turn, so I'm sharing. And seeing as I'm dog-sitting again this weekend, might as well get in the mood.

I wonder if we could have a baby wolf. Although it would have to bond with the baby orang-utan I also plan on having.

PS: This was in the wonderful Arts & Letters daily - I thought it apposite to the piece - http://www.theweek.com/article/index/89914/The_last_word_Why_old_dogs_are_the_best_dogs

PPS: Don't know why I haven't done this before, but meet Sam, who doesn't usually wear a red T-shirt to such devastating effect but for that you can blame my sister who no doubt persuaded him it was manly. He's a flatcoat retriever, my parents' (allegedly) last dog and therefore baby and my sister's longed-for baby brother, albeit in dog form (if you quite get my meaning...) He's funny, not terribly smart, always cheerful and adores football. There may be more on Sam in the future.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

A verdant ray of light on a gunmetal grey day...

The excitement. The very excitement. I came home last night, after a mammoth 2 1/2 hour slog (I'm sorry but really I have very little patience with strikers), tired to the very bone. Shuffling into the kitchen, I see on the kitchen table a lone broad bean pod. Now this is curious. I bought a small bag of broad beans at the weekend, as I'd checked ours - rather cursorily I admit - and they didn't seem to be giving forth. Why, I pondered, would MCD have removed a single broad bean pod from the fridge? For educational purposes... compare and contrast... an alternative instrument to unblock the loo... anything was possible. This is not a man known for voluntarily tackling anything green. When questioned, his little face shone like the morning sun and he beamed 'It's ours.' 'I know that, dear, when you exchange money for goods, ownership does tend to pass into your posession' was my weary reply. 'No, no, it's ours...' he maintained and light did indeed dawn.

He had been out pottering in the veg garden and a flash of something had caught his eye. Upon further inspection, lo, the lower echelons of the broad bean plants appeared to be covered in bright green pods. Masses. So tonight the plan will be - and luckily he's off to a Darwin symposium so he won't be helping (btw he's not sure he knows what a symposium is, but hey-ho it's a night out) - me shelling broad beans and freezing what I don't plan to eat over the next few days.

So tonight, broad beans with some creme fraiche and ham; tomorrow, broad beans with parsley and lemon to go with our fish and chips; Saturday more broad bean hummus.

Ooh and to add to it all, our very first pebble-like new potatoes were smashing.
PS: Just to add a note - those broad beans with the creme fraiche. Here's what I did: I got home, found, not the colander with a few pods in but half a stock pot full - MCD had been busy. I poured a glass of wine and went into the garden and left them there... No, not really. I decamped to the garden and podded the beans. It all came to about 2 handfuls - no wonder they're precious. I popped a big handful into a pan with a little butter and a slightly-too-large splash of white wine, added some shredded Parma ham and simmered very gently until they just started to pop through the outer casing and there was a hint of bright green visible. I stirred in creme fraiche, lemon juice and parsley and poured this ragout next to a sizzling pork steak, seasoned with a little lemon juice. Back out into the garden with more white wine - it was blissful and quite extraordinary to be eating the produce picked that morning and prepared a couple of minutes earlier.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A very desultory and lacklustre gastro-weekend

I would like to regale you with tales of the fabulous gastronomic feasts I cooked up with verve, vim and enthusiasm at the weekend, but you know what - it was raining. And I lost all desire to do anything brilliant. And I wanted to read trash American detective fiction (J D Robb is candy for the brain - I am officially addicted). Friday we'd eaten at A Torre in Crystal Palace - Portuguese, heartwarming, family restaurant - undemanding (um - I had some delicious clams and then a kind of seafood paella, MCD had something I forget and then their fabulous steak thing, which is layers of bread, cheese, ham and steak in this kind of spicy sauce, which is just wonderful for colds and hangovers. Unfortunately he had neither and the restaurant was boiling, so he sweated a lot) and just what the doctor ordered. Did my shopping on Saturday morning and bought a nice roast chicken - I was thinking roast on Sunday evening. But then my brain kind of gave up.

So Saturday night we had (can I just admit at this point that this extreme laziness was brought on by Saturday afternoon drinking and a margarita when we got home - no apologies, hey, I pulled it together!) lamb burgers, spiced up with a little sumac, stuffed into bread rolls with a chunky-in-the-extreme cucumber and mint raita and tomatoes and some oven chips. Rooster, just to experiment - still not a patch on Harry Ramsden's - where have they gone?

Sunday was indeed roast chicken, brushed with goose fat as per new MO - still brilliant - with smashed garlicky potatoes and a half-ton of salad wilting under the lemony, parsley, winey pan juices.

It's the chicken leftovers that are really making me think though. Last night - to comfort myself through my fill of Gene Hunt for the year (ye Gods, how will I cope), I pulled off the wings, coated them in honey and grain mustard and put them in the oven till sizzling. I made a slightly lumpy blue cheese/creme fraiche dressing, diced up some fennel and tossed them with yet more leftover sodding salad. It was a soul booster.

Tonight, I'm thinking I might devil the legs - mix mustard, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, slash the legs and then bake them again till sizzling. To add even more piquancy, MCD might have pulled up the first of the potatoes (now that is exciting), in which case they'll also be bunged in the oven with some rosemary (alas neither of us are that keen on boiled potatoes). And there's salad. Yeah!

PS - The cavolo nero is starting to look like real cavolo nero. Like an excited puppy, MCD wants to pull it all up now (I think the amount of green stuff is starting to scare him very slightly) but I have shown him photos of what we are looking for, and does he really want more greens to tackle. To be fair, he is eating some of the salad. But you can't hide it. Believe me, you can't.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The cold hard reality...

... is that sometimes you can have too much. And be too enthusiastic in 'plough the fields and scatter' mode. And naive. Goddamnit - the rocket has to go. Just take a look at it - that 10ft high thistle-like growth there on the left. The lesson we have learned is: Don't sow 5 rows of rocket at the same time because it WILL all grow at the same time and you won't be able to eat it all at the same time. And you'll lose any trace of access you had to the middle of the garden so the spinach will go to seed and the lettuces will grow to the size of planets. It's our very own monster of Frankenstein. And good grief does it need to be put out of its misery.

So - the rocket is coming out. MCD will be flogging bags of it at the stationary traffic outside the house courtesy of the gas works and I shall be investigating whether it freezes and then we shall start over. Half a row at a time. So we can eat it like normal people, once or twice a week, no thinking how to incorporate into every dish.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Good Things for the Barbie

What about all this weather we've been having? Naturally they're predicting a dive in temperatures and sleeting rain and hail for the weekend - of course - but hopefully it's not going to last long.

Anyway, I thought I might give you a list of things that are a Good Idea to barbecue, given ours is practically the third person in our marriage (who needs statuesque blonde women when I have to fight a hunk of hot metal for MCD's attentions? Luckily, come November, she goes back under her cover and he forgets about her for a few months. Future Mrs Ds beware - he's a fairweather partner...)

Ahem - back to the Good Ideas list. This is what we've been having over the last 10 days or so...
  • Good old-fashioned sausages. Topppest of top tips - poach the sausages in boiling water f0r around 8 minutes before barbecuing. This results in that most appetising of results - perfectly cooked pork meat, glistening San Tropez outsides and praise for The Man on his cooking techniques.
  • Good old-fashioned burgers. Yeah, yeah, bo-oring... We'd forgotten how good a plain burger can be on the barbie, slapped in a simple bun, with a slice of Dairylea for the connoisseur and a spread of onion marmalade and Gorgonzola for those with less refined tastebuds. Alternatively you cannot go wrong with pickle, tomato, ketchup, mayonnaise and a squirt of French mustard. Yes, you must simply use all of these together or none. It's the law.
  • A leg of lamb, marinaded in molasses, red wine, olive oil, garlic, rosemary, cooked in a medium oven for about 25-30 mins then finished on the BBQ for sticky deliciousness. Amazing in wraps with a cucumber-yoghurt salad.
  • Steak with a Chimichurri sauce (Argentinia - the law-makers of how to eat steak, they say - invented this sauce. Basically, parsley, green chilli, garlic, olive oil, white wine vinegar, s & p - slather steak in for about 30 mins before BBQ-ing to rare. We had ours with asparagus roasted on the BBQ and I believe MCD may have folded some carbohydrate around his.
  • Seafood. Ooh this was a good one. Razor clams (just slap em on), prawns marinaded in garlic and olive oil, mackerel (just oiled and cooked for about 7 mins a side) and squid. I marinaded the squid in honey, balsamic, green chilli, garlic and oil first for about 30 mins, but you don't have to. What you do have to do is make Val Warner's caper sauce - bashed capers, parsley, olive oil, other herbs if you like, seasoning and a little harissa - as that goes with both squid and mackerel, in a handy 2-for-1 combo. We had this with salad (we have everything with sodding salad these days - see gardening posts) and chips.

Just while I think about it, there's this fab chicken dish I bastardized from Nigella involving rose wine and lavender which is sheer poetry on a summer's evening, but given the lavender is being a tad recalcitrant just now (or perhaps a little shy, given it's quite new), I can't make this yet. When I do, you'll know.

Monday, 1 June 2009

A real discovery

I just spent a luxurious week off work doing frankly very little other than lying in the sun and reading (quick recommendations The Children's Book by AS Byatt and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, the latter so spooky that I refused to go into the house by myself... so easily led). But with a couple of days of crappy weather, we needed to get out and about. So we settled for Eltham Palace in Bromley - I'd vaguely heard of it as being where Henry VIII grew up so I kind of thought I knew what to expect.
Well. As Bill Bryson once said, if you've never been, take my car and go. Go now. I've never been anywhere so surreally and wonderfully not what I expected. The whole house has been fabulously restored to 1930s Art Deco, the period when it was owned by the Courtaulds. It's like nothing so much inside as a stately ocean liner - all clean lines, elegance and grace and even a cage for their pet ring-tailed lemur. The picture above shows the entrace hall-cum-drinks area - a perfect circle of light and wood like a forest glade open to the sun. Virginia Courtauld's bedroom is worth a visit alone - utter fabulousness with its gold mosaic bathroom.
The gardens are beautiful - there's a moat with its own inquisitive carp, sunken gardens, rockery, fountains, and an orangery which looks like being a sweet cafe in the sunnier months.
Frankly I can't enthuse enough. I know I'm biased - it's my favourite era - but seriously, we all need a little touch of fabulousness at the mo. Just go. Oh - weirdly only open Sunday - Wednesday. Weird.