Thursday 29 July 2010

Forging Fromage - labneh and gouda


Imagine my surprise and, um, delight when I realised that not one but TWO cheeses were due for Forging Fromage on the 30th July! Fortunately we'd had a good long run up to one of them, but that made the deadline for the second slightly stressful.

I'll take them in order of complexity.

Heather and Natashya, the hosts of Forging Fromage, realised that the challenges had been getting pretty scary, so they threw in this little mini-challenge, for yoghurt cheese.

Now, yoghurt cheese, or labneh, is just about as easy as a cheese can get. You take a pot of yoghurt, drain it until it is really thick and then eat it. Seriously, that is all there is to it. No cultures, no thermometers, no weights. Just a bit of time and a bit of gravity. I gave mine 24 hours in a (brand spanking new and scalded) dishcloth before I decided that it was firm enough.

The first dish we ate using the labneh was this wonderful warm salad of roast tomatoes in a saffron dressing. Amazing. The only real tweaks I made were using chipotle in adobo instead of harissa, and pinenuts instead of almonds. Absolutely gorgeous with barbecued rib eye steaks and halved courgettes. I will be making this one again really soon - the saffron is so pretty and the mellow, sweet heat from the tomatoes is perfect with the cool, tangy cheese.

The rest of the labneh I rolled into balls and marinated in olive oil, with garlic and peppercorns. I could have added some fresh herbs, but I didn't think of that until I had closed the jar and washed up, so I didn't bother.

A couple of days later I put some of the marinated labneh in a quesadilla, along with my first gorgeous, ripe cherry tomatoes and a few baby spinach leaves. I didn't add any salt to the labneh, to allow me to season each dish I used it in individually.

I have also used the labneh to stuff some little pickled red chillies as a snack, and I have designs on some more of it to add to a savoury tart. Very versatile and very delicious!

The more complicated cheesey challenge for this round (which actually started in May - told you it was complicated) was gouda.

Here's a fun fact - they eat a lot of gouda in South Africa, and my husband swears it is pronounced chowda, with a ch like in challah, Chanukah or loch. As a result I am now too paranoid to call it anything in case I mispronounce it and bring shame to my inlaws. Much like my last name, I'm afraid.

I bought an actual baby gouda mould for this one, so the shape was excellent, but my jury-rigged pressing contraption left a bit to be desired. I couldn't get the pressure even and it kept falling over with a loud clatter in the middle of the night.

This is the first fromage that we have forged that needed aging. I ran into some trouble with mould, although the directions said to just wash it off with vinegar. Which I did - but I still didn't feel comfortable leaving it any longer than the minimum time for aging.

You know what? It was really good. It was very pale in colour - South African gouda tends to be a lot yellower than mine turned out; I think they add annato colouring - but the texture was a perfect sliceable, fine-grained hard cheese, and the flavour was just spot on. Very gratifying!

Monday 26 July 2010

Meat-Free Monday AND Cooking the Books! Fondue

Our latest book over at Cook the Books has been Erica Bauermeister's first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients.

I confess, I was a bit apprehensive about the "first novel" bit. About a million years ago I wrote some reviews for a brilliant magazine called Good Reading, and my heart learned to sink whenever a "first novel" came my way. The vast majority of them would have benefited from a bit more polishing at whatever writer's workshop spawned them. There is a saying that everyone has a book in them, but no one ever said it was readable by other people.

Fortunately The School of Essential Ingredients is not like that. It is, in fact, a very sweet little book. Lillian uses the hard lessons she learned as a child to teach her cooking students about food, and those lessons transform each of their lives.

I very quickly decided that I was going to make fondue, the dish the students make for Valentine's Day at Lillian's cooking school. For one thing, I love it. When I was growing up it was always something our family would have for celebratory meals - so it seems appropriate that this post is going up on my mother's birthday. Happy Birthday Bettina!

But I was also struck by the mention of the hint of nutmeg in the cheese. This was a revelation to me. I love nutmeg, and I use it in almost all cheese dishes and a lot of vegetable dishes (it's wonderful on buttered cabbage) but it had never, ever occurred to me to put it in a fondue.

I followed my usual proportions of wine, gruyere and emmenthaler, leaving the garlic cloves in the wine instead of just rubbing around the caquelon. I didn't dust the cheese with cornflour, I followed the family method of making a cornflour slurry to add towards the end, and I bought a little bottle of kirschwasser to use in that slurry. Then right at the end I seasoned the fondue with a grating of nutmeg and some black pepper. I served it with cubes of crusty dark sourdough bread (I find baguette goes too pappy in the hot cheese) and pickled shallots.

This was definitely the best fondue I have ever made. It is amazing how much difference a little nutmeg and a little kirschwasser make to the flavour. And, as Lillian's students discovered, fondues bring people together and encourage intimacy. Sharing a meal from the same pot is a very cozy way to eat, and you can't help but lean together and chat as you swirl your cubes of bread in the thick molten cheese.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Baked Salmon with Pesto and Butterbeans

With Paul working up in Durham at the moment, we're having to adjust to a new routine. He comes home on a Friday night, in time for dinner. In theory. In practice he is at the mercy of the railways and dinner needs to be fairly flexible, in order to accommodate various delays. It also needs to involve a lot of vegetables and pretty punchy flavours, because the poor love is getting very tired of the menu at the pub across from his motel.

This dish fits the bill perfectly! It's a variation on a recipe that I got from a woman called Maureen, on a now-defunct food forum about 10 years ago. It's healthy, delicious and forgiving.

Baked Salmon with Pesto & Butterbeans (serves 2)

1 red onion, cut into wedges
1 can of butterbeans, drained and rinsed
1 red pepper, cut into wedges
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup pesto (this can be a jar, but I made a simple one from rocket, basil, garlic and olive oil - left out the parmesan and pinenuts on this occasion)
2 salmon fillets
salt, pepper & olive oil

Put the wedges of onion and red pepper in a roasting tin and drizzle with a little olive oil. Roast for about 25 minutes at 180C. Remove from oven and add the butterbeans and cherry tomatoes, and toss with the pesto, adding a bit of extra oil if it looks too dry.

This is the point where it can wait. The last bit only takes a few minutes, so if you are making this for a dinner party, or a partner whose train is delayed outside Milton Keynes, this is where you can hold it.

When your tired, grumpy husband walks through the door, place the salmon fillets, skin side up, on the bed of vegetables, nestling them in a bit so their flesh gets a bit of the pesto on them, season with salt and pepper and put back in the oven. By the time he has changed and has a drink and has cuddled the cat (i.e about 20 minutes) dinner is ready to eat. Needs nothing else, but a glass of white wine or a light red is just the thing.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Ricotta Fritters

On Friday night I made ricotta. I'd been starting my cheddar for the Forging Fromage cloth-banded cheddar challenge, and had an enormous amount of whey, so I thought I'd re-cook it and skim off the ricotta before portioning up the whey for other uses.

So on Saturday morning I had a nice cupful of fresh, milky ricotta and a strong urge to make ricotta fritters for brunch.

I largely followed Orangette's recipe, although as my ricotta was really very wet and I didn't have quite enough, I only used 2 eggs, and a bit of extra flour, and I used Cointreau instead of brandy or bourbon to bring out more of the citrus flavour. When they were cooked, I dusted them with golden icing sugar and cinnamon, and served them with slices of mango and large cups of coffee. Heaven. Absolutely gorgeous. Obviously (well, it should be obvious!) we weren't able to eat the whole batch in one sitting, but they stayed crisp as they cooled, and as the afternoon wore on, the pile on the plate gradually dwindled to nothing.

Monday 12 July 2010

Meat-Free Monday - peppered potatoes and cauliflower

One of my favourite dishes at our favourite Indian restaurant, Sahib's in Northwood Hills, is a starter called maree aloo - sauteed potatoes liberally coated in black pepper. So I sort of had that in mind when I threw together this supper.

Peppered Potatoes and Cauliflower

500g new potatoes
1 small head of cauliflower
1 sprig fresh green peppercorns
1/2 tsp white peppercorns
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
pinch cumin seeds
pinch salt
big pinch curry leaves
2 cloves garlic
big knob of butter
Tomatoes, coriander leaves and strained yoghurt to serve.

Boil the potatoes. About 2/3 of the way through the cooking time, add the cauliflower, broken into florets. While it is cooking grind the 3 peppercorns, cumin seeds, salt and curry leaves in a spice grinder to a coarse powder.

Drain the potatoes and cauliflower. Melt the butter in the saucepan and add the garlic, cut into slivers. When it starts to sizzle, and the pepper mixture, and saute for a minute. Add the drained vegetables and crush a bit with a potato masher, then give it a good stir to make sure it is all well-coated with the spices.

Serve with a good handful of chopped coriander, a spoonful of strained yoghurt and a few halved cherry tomatoes.

Serves 2 as a main, 4-6 as a side dish. And I suspect the leftovers would make really outstanding potato cakes, mixed with an egg to bind.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Barbecue Brisket and Burgers

The weather has decided to cooperate with my ambitions to make the perfect barbecued pizza, burgers and brisket. We're having the best summer since we arrived in England 4 years ago, with sunny skies, hot temperatures and not too much wind. Ideal for barbecuing! Unfortunately Paul has just started a job up in the North of England, so he's only home on weekends at the moment, which is limiting my time for experimenting.

But we have had some fantastic successes!

We had a houseguest staying a few weeks ago (the friend whose dating technique was commemorated in this post) and I decided he'd probably had enough rich, fancy food on his trip and needed something basic and homely. Burgers seemed to be the right thing for the occasion.

He was very, very sceptical when I told him that it was just going to be beef, salt and pepper and started telling me about these amazing burgers with egg and breadcrumbs and Worcestershire, cumin seeds and mustard and god knows what else in them. And I told him that these were going to be beef with salt and pepper and if he didn't like it he could get the hell out of my kitchen.

I didn't have time to make burger buns, so I cut some slices of sourdough bread and toasted them on the barbecue while the cooked burgers were resting, then I rubbed the toasted bread with a clove of garlic and a drizzle of olive oil.

The burgers were ever so slightly over cooked, but the flavour was perfect and the garlic toast was just the right thing underneath them. And our guest agreed that they didn't need any fillers or binders or anything else to give them flavour.

Then last weekend we had enough free time to devote to barbecuing a brisket. In America (Texas particularly, I believe) they take the cooking of barbecue extremely seriously and have cook-offs where people virtually come to blows over the right way to do things, so it feels slightly audacious to be presenting my Australian/English version of barbecued brisket on Independence Day. But no offence is intended!

This was a small, 3lb brisket, so I couldn't do the sort of 12 hour cook that some recipes recommend, but I figured that an hour per pound on an indirect heat was probably going to be about right. A lot of the recipes seem to be more about the basting sauces and marinades than the meat itself, but I found this recipe for a dry rub, which sounded good to me. The big thing about the recipe is that it contains no sugar, which appealled from a flavour point of view and also made it less likely to burn.

We cooked it on indirect heat, covered, with hickory chips, placing the vent on the barbecue to encourage the flow of smoke over the meat and turned it over twice.

As you can see, after the 3 hours and a short rest, the meat was still succulent and juicy, and we had a really good penetration of smoke. The flavour from the rub was excellent. The leftovers were gorgeous cold!

I don't think this was the definitive brisket, but it was certainly very successful.


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