Thursday 27 January 2011

Forging Fromage - Sour Cream

I've been taking some time out from Forging Fromage. The results of my home made cheese experiments have been good - even my cheddar, aged 6 months and unveiled over Christmas - was identifiable as a cheddar. The problem was the whey lake. Although I have been using it in bread making, I had accumulated 4 litres of frozen whey and just wasn't able to get through it all. I declared that I wasn't going to make any more cheese until I had used up some of the whey.

And then a bright spark mentioned Norwegian whey cheese. I can't believe I hadn't thought of that before. I have tried this weird, brown, sweet, fudgy "cheese" and quite liked it in the past. So I found a recipe for making gjetost at home - and then discovered that it is more properly called mysost.

A quantity of whey, a heavy bottomed pan, a wooden spoon and a complete disregard for the power bills are all mysost requires.

I can definitely see this developing in a country where it is cool enough in summer to have a wood-burning stove running all the time. Where you could just stick the pot of whey on the back of the stove and leave it to its own devices for a couple of hours. That makes it a canny use of leftovers. Not so much when you have to have the stove running specially.

And the result was good but not awe-inspiring. I didn't manage to get the smooth fudgy texture that I associate with this cheese, mine is more the texture of tablet. But it did occur to me that, with a bit less cooking and a bit of added sugar, I could achieve a whey-based subsitute for cajeta. So I now have a goal for this year's whey supply.

With my whey worries resolved, I was able to return to Forging Fromage. Only to discover that this month's challenge, cultured sour cream, produced no whey.

Double cream and a small proportion of cultured buttermilk resulted in a thick, creamy, lightly tangy sour cream that cooked without splitting and was generally a little taste of heaven.

Amongst other dishes, to showcase this beautiful sour cream I made a brunch dish of baked chilli eggs. I used a slosh of homemade chilli sauce, rather than sliced green chillis. Spicy, creamy, rich and absolutely gorgeous. I was very glad to have some good sourdough toast to soak up the juices. It would have been a crying shame to miss a single bite.

Monday 24 January 2011

Eggs - taste the rainbow

This picture is completely unenhanced - these 3 eggs came out of the shell with this gorgeous range of yolk colours. And they were delicious.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Cook the Books: Untangling my chopsticks

The current selection for Cook the Books is an old favourite of mine - Victoria Abbott Riccardi's memoir of her time in Kyoto studying tea kaiseki, Untangling My Chopsticks. The extraordinary whim of living in Japan to study the food that goes along with a tea ceremony is captivating.

As I was re-reading this book over the Christmas / New Year break I was particularly struck by the New Year's Eve that Victoria spent in Kyoto, being wrapped in a traditional kimono and preparing an o-sechi ryori with her friends. They were headed into the Year of the Rabbit. I realised that we were also heading into the Year of the Rabbit - 24 years since she had her Japanese sojourn.

I don't have it in me to do the sort of presentation that is described in the book. My middle name would be slapdash if it didn't happen to be Clare. So I decided to follow my own path of nostalgia through Japanese food.

When Paul and I were getting to the point where marriage looked like a possibility, or even a probability, we used to go to a wonderful izakaya in Sydney called Toriciya. Paul would drink sake and I would drink umeshu and we would order some snacks. The ika geso age, cooked in a battered old cast iron pan, were so good that we would often finish our order and get a second round of squiddies. They never seemed to mind, and we never knew if that was because they liked us enjoying our food or they were too polite to point out that we were being crass.

I couldn't get the tentacles, so our starter was crisply fried marinated squid hoods. Absolutely delicious. If we hadn't had a lot more food to get through I would have made more.

For our main course, I made some beef and spring onion negimaki rolls (mostly because we had some steaks, cut a bit too thin for my liking, in the freezer) and nasu dengaku. Another restaurant we used to frequent in our early days together used to prepare this dish of aubergine glazed with miso dressing so beautifully that I think it spoilt me. Certainly my version (prepared to their recipe) was a bit too salty and not nearly as luscious.

With the negimaki and nasu dengaku I served rice, miso soup and pickles. I chose beni shoga and umeboshi as my pickles because I felt that their red colour was the right festive red against the white rice for January, and I thought that the sweet spiciness of the ginger worked against the mouth-pucker sour saltiness of the plum. And I love beni shoga with beef.

For dessert I came back to an old familiar position: Paul hasn't got much of a sweet tooth. So I made yet another variation on one of the things he does like, tiramisu.

Green Tea Tiramisu (serves 2)

3 savoiardi biscuits (I had leftovers from Christmas)
1 sachet instant iced green tea
1 egg, separated
1tbs caster sugar
2tbs cointreau (cointreau and green tea is magic together. You wouldn't have thought it, but the combination is brilliant)
250g mascarpone

Put half the sachet of instant green tea in a small jug and add 75ml of cold water, and stir until dissolved. Divide the biscuits, broken in half, between two glasses. Sprinkle with the tea mixture.

Over a pan of simmering water, whisk the eggyolk, sugar, most of the remaining instant tea and cointreau, until it is thick and frothy. Off the heat fold in the mascarpone, and then the eggwhite, beaten to soft peaks.

Dollop the mascarpone mixture over the tea-soaked biscuits.

Sprinkle the very last of the sachet of instant tea onto the surface of the mascarpone. You can't tell from the picture, but the green blob on mine was actually a Japanese maple-leaf shape.

Chill for an hour or so before eating, to allow the biscuits to properly swell and soften and the flavours to combine.

Saturday 15 January 2011


Sorry Twihards, this post has absolutely nothing to do with that dismal phenomenon. Although we did find plant-pots that sparkled in the sun; I found that funny. This post is about our very successful harvest of Numex Twilight chillies, which has just come to an end.

Twilight is a pretty new cultivar, as far as I can tell, and it is variously described as "medium hot", "very hot", "the hot, hot chilli", "to 45cm", "60cm" and "to 1m tall". Which I think indicates fairly clearly that your mileage may vary if you decide to have a go with these.

Certainly the ones we grew were at the outside edge of our heat tolerance, and ultimately stood 140cm tall. They packed a heck of a punch.

We grew them from seed, starting in late February. They took a very long time to germinate - which should have indicated what we were up against, as hot chillies take longer to germinate than milder ones.

The USP for Twilight is that you have this prolific crop of fruit, with red, yellow and purple glossy, upright chillies all appearing at the same time. In fact, they seem to ripen from the middle of the bush outwards, so you have a flush of red in the middle, shading up through orange and yellow to purple on the outer edges. So it looks like a sunset. Twilight. Sunset. Very nifty.

Paul's fertilising regime, of Chilli Focus, Tomorite and super-phosphate led to a lot of fruit. Early on in the season we wanted to thin it out a bit, so I picked 300g of the purple chillies to make a sort of Tabasco-esque sauce. Sadly it lost the lovely colour, while retaining the heat, so we ended up with an innocuous-looking creamy yellow sauce that contains the fires of hell. Deceptive.

The problem with these chillies was our ability to consume them. When you have hundreds on a bush and adding a single chilli to a pot of curry makes your eyes water and your mouth tingle, you really have to look around for ways to use them.

I took bags of fresh chillies in to work.

I made pots of delicious savoury Thai chilli jam, which I have then used in egg sambals, nasi goreng and as a base for soup.

I made pots of sweet and spicy apple and chilli jam, which will make its way into quesadillas and onto cheese-boards.

And finally, at the end of the season, I developed an amazingly good chilli sauce recipe. I think this is a really good model for a chilli sauce - you get a good texture and body with the proportions, and it isn't too sweet. If you use a different variety of chilli, you will get a different flavour sauce. Nice and adaptable.

Chilli Sauce

250g chillies
300g fresh tomatoes, chopped
3tbs golden caster sugar
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
250ml white wine vinegar
2tbs coarse sea-salt

Roughly chop the chillies and place in a stainless steel saucepan with the tomatoes garlic, sugar and vinegar. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then place in a food processor or blender with the salt and process until smooth-ish. The seeds won't break down, but they are going to be strained out anyway.

Push through a conical sieve into a sterilised pyrex jug, and then fill sterilised bottles and seal. Makes about 500ml.

I made a couple of batches of this, and the most successful variation was with smoked chillies. I spread the chillies out in a single layer in a steamer, and placed it in the bottom of my smoker, next to a pile of beechwood smoking dust. I positioned the vent over the chillies, to encourage a good flow of smoke up from the dust and over the fruit. After about 15 minutes I closed the vent and let them just sit in the smoke, for a total of an hour.

The smoked version came out a slightly darker colour, and has a rich but subtle smokey flavour. I took one bottle into work, where it is disappearing at an incredible rate. I know exactly where this year's chilli crop is going to go.

Thursday 13 January 2011

More pasta

Our first go at pasta worked well - very well - but we felt it still needed work. We'd rolled it to the thinnest rollers, which was just a bit too delicate, and overcooked in a flash.

So we had another go. And then another.

I have also had a request for the recipe we have used to make our pasta. It's the product of reading lots and lots of recipes, and so far it has worked well for us.

Basic Pasta Dough

300g 00 flour
1 large whole egg
1 extra egg yolk
2 tbs olive oil
pinch salt
tiny drizzles of water

I bring the flour, eggs, oil and salt together in a bowl and start kneading with my right hand, using my left hand to add a little water until the paste is smooth and not sticky, then I leave it to rest for an hour.

This quantity is as much pasta as the drying rack can cope with. It is also the right amount for two people just having pasta with a light sauce for dinner - no starter or dessert. With a richer sauce, smaller appetites or as a starter that quantity will go a lot further!

So our second attempt at pasta was a more robust noodle. Not quite broad enough to be pappardelle, but broader than fettucine. We rolled it to the second-finest roller and thought that it was a better thickness than the previous attempt. We cut them on the widest cutter.

They still only took moments to cook, but they were much easier to catch at the perfect toothsome point before they got mushy. And the broader noodles were absolutely the right thing with this heavenly, rich, ox-cheek ragu. The ox-cheeks had simmered gently with onions, carrots, tomatoes, white wine, the zest of an orange and a bay leaf for about 6 hours, gradually falling to gelatinous threads.

For our final experiment, before we had to go back to work, we got a bit elaborate.

Our New Year's Eve dinner was crab and prawn ravioli, made with saffron pasta, garnished with a light creamy sauce, spinach leaves, seared scallops and salmon roe. It was very good, but my ravioli need work - I had some trouble with leaking and exploding.

The saffron pasta was good though! I put a pinch of saffron threads in a mortar and pestle with the pinch of salt that was going into the pasta, crushed it finely, and then added it to the flour. The pasta ended up a lovely rich gold colour, with streaks of deeper orange from less-crushed bits of the saffron.

There was a bit more pasta than we needed after the ravioli, so we cut it into noodles and had it buttered the next day with pork fillet in peppercorn sauce, and some lightly steamed cabbage. So delicious.

Monday 10 January 2011

Meat-Free Monday: Carrot & Beetroot Tempura

I have had this recipe, for beetroot and carrot tempura, book-marked since September. I was slightly baffled as to why they called it "A light summery starter" when it is during the winter that my veg box is besieged by carrots and beets and I am scratching around desperately for things to do with them.

This was a very good use for them! The tempura batter is really excellent, giving a thin, light coating and the vegetables inside cooked to a perfect tender finish.

Instead of the creme fraiche dipping sauce, I made a dip of 2% fat Greek-style yoghurt (yes - still from my generous supply from TOTAL!) thinned with a little water, with a clove of garlic, some dried dill and some drips of my completely insane home-made chilli sauce.

It may be deep-fried, but this was still a lighter, fresher dish than a lot of the winter foods we've been eating, and it made a perfect finger-food supper in front of The Big Lebowski.

Monday 3 January 2011

Meat-Free Monday - Pasta Pomodoro

It's taken a long time, but Paul is finally getting the knack of culturally-ordained gift-giving occasions. He's always been amazing at random "I saw this and thought you'd like it" gift-giving, but hasn't been a fan of "Thou shalt spend money TODAY" gift-giving.

And I can largely see his point. What is romantic and loving for us isn't red roses and chocolates on February 14. I don't appreciate my mother more on the second Sunday in May. We had to get married so we'd have an anniversary to remember, but we don't commemorate it with gifts.

But not always getting presents for my birthday or Christmas has been irksome. My philosophical approval of sticking it to the man and choosing our own moments for presents sort of runs out on the 12th of September.

This Christmas, however, he came up trumps. He came home, laden with parcels, and scurried up to the spare room, from which I was then barred.

I got a lovely bottle of perfume from Urchin. And from Paul I got an Imperia pasta maker, and a drying rack. Amazing. He didn't even realise that I had that very pasta maker in my Amazon wishlist. It was just his genius.

Sadly, we then had to wait 3 whole days before we could get some 00 flour to play with it! But that time was valuably spent in discussing what our first pasta experiment should be.

We agreed that the best possible use for our very first batch of homemade pasta, would be a pasta pomodoro. Not just any pasta pomodoro of course, but made with the cherry tomato and basil sauce that we made from our home-grown tomatoes and herbs, and bottled in the summer.

And the icing on the cake? Topping it with grated home-made cheddar, from my July Forging Fromage challenge. Home-made pasta (gorgeously silky, delectable and SO easy!). Home-grown and made sauce (perfect balance of acid and sweet, lovely herbal flavour from the basil). Home-made cheese (who would have thought you could make a proper grating cheese at home?!). This may be the proudest moment of my foody life so far.

I think it is safe to say that there will be a LOT of pasta posts this year!

Saturday 1 January 2011

Christmas feasting (part 4 - leftovers)

Happy New Year everyone! A few final bits & pieces before I put Christmas 2010 to bed and look forward to a very foody 2011.

I made some spiced beef for Boxing Day, according to this recipe of Rowley Leigh's. It was the only thing that actually stopped me turning green from jealousy over my mother's stories of ham and barbecues.

Absolutely wonderful! Much simpler than the cure I usually use, and I think the flavour was much better. Plus an excellent continental Europe-based online pal brought me some saltpetre, so the beef had a pretty rosy glow.

We had it hot with roasted beetroot and yoghurt salad. Really delicious. But pressed and cooled it came into its own. We had it in sandwiches in hot, fresh sourdough baguette, with celeriac remoulade on the side. So good there was no need for sauerkraut or mustard or any of the other condiments we'd usually put in a sandwich. Definitely one to make again - and soon!

The confited legs of our Christmas goose, plus the leftover breast meat (both plain and smoked) joined some of the rich goose broth in a really fabulous cassoulet. It's quite a lot warmer this week than it has been, but we were still happy to get into big bowls of luscious beans and rich meat. That pot of beans did the two of us for a lunch and a dinner, so I really don't think my goose purchase was too, too extravagant. And I still have a big tub of goose fat and two litres of goose stock in the freezer waiting for inspiration.

The last of the stilton was grated and mixed with the leftover quark from my stollen, to make a thick version of Kat's Grandpa's Dunk. I smeared the dunk (too thick to be a dunk really) onto tortillas and whacked them in a pan for some really amazing quesadillas.

So - Christmas done and dusted, and the fridge is almost empty. Yay me!


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