Lazy Tart

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Peach & strawberry cream cheese lazy tart

One of my favourite lazy quick ways to use up fruit about to over ripen is to slice it up and whack it on a puff pastry tart base. I keep some butter puff sheets in the freezer for this very purpose. If I’m feeling virtuous, I’ll do a minimal base of cream cheese and maybe a hint of cream, but otherwise, frangipane never goes amiss.

Lazy fruit tart

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
  • sliced fruit of your choice
  • Topping option (see below)
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
  • Honey to drizzle

Pre heat oven to 180 degrees, place puff pastry onto a baking sheet (oiled – even though the pastry is full of butter, that stuff will cling to anything), smother puff sheet with topping choice and arrange sliced fruit. (Don’t be tempted to over ‘fill’ as the pastry won’t cook through in the middle while it happily blackens round the edges as you wait). Scatter almonds. Drizzle with honey or maple syrup, pop into oven until puffed and golden.

Topping choice one:

Dollop of cream cheese or ricotta, couple of tablespoons of cream, pinch of cinnamon – mix together vigorously in a bowl, slather or dollop & cook as above.

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Topping choice two – frangipane (enough for one square puff sheet, plus extra for a couple of ramekins of fruit/frangipane/cream)

  • 65g butter
  • 65g caster sugar
  • 65g Almond meal
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tablespoon plain flour

Cream butter & sugar until pale and fluffy, gradually beat in the egg, fold in the ground almonds and flour. Slather onto your pastry & cook as above.

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Radelaide Market

I mentioned to someone that I was was spending a weekend in Adelaide, and there were two comments, bound up in one utterance: Radelaide! Go the food market! No idea whether the rad jibe was meant well, or sarcastically, but evidence is that hipster has well and truly arrived, at least in the field of food artisan types. Plenty of restaurants requiring detailed ‘research’ – which we’ll sadly have to defer to future visits, as this was a short trip with a pre defined agenda. But we managed a couple of outings to that market.

If you love cheese and smallgoods, Adelaide Central Market is the place for you. Literally a smorgasbord of utterly fantastic cheeses over many stalls, from ‘Smelly Cheese’, to ‘Say Cheese’, via the exclusive looking Lucias, from where we also picked up an awesome prosciutto:???????????????????????????????and some smoked paprika – I’m a complete sucker for those kitsch tins. We admired the fridgefulls of smallgoods, including salumi from the guys I’ve been trying to source from Sydney since quattro formagio inexplicably stopped stocking it.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

The Smelly Cheese Store almost wrest tears of longing from me and made me seriously consider moving to Adelaide. I fondly imagined choosing 2 or 3 artisan cheeses a week to linger over; working my way through the entire, gigantic stock in a lactophillic orgy drawn out over the course of the months, until I was able to begin again at the gloriously cheesy beginning.??????????????????????????????? It’s hard to chose a favourite from the mere half dozen or so I tried in a short space of time – they’re happy to let you try before you buy, always a plus when you’re looking at a $75 per kilo cheese, believe me – but this was simply amazing:

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There were 2 Reypenaer cheeses available, but this, the 36 month xo was a stunner. Caramel sweetness with calcium crunch, it immedietely reminded me of Valrohna Dulcey chocolate. Which I found weird, until I realised that it’s essentially just another milk based product, so why not?

We filled our boots with more food than we could possibly get through in a couple of days and filed the rest under ‘must get back to Adelaide asap!’

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Almond and Basil Pesto

The autumn garden. Already the summer is over, autumn has rushed by and in 2 weeks it will be winter. It’s time to clear out the remains of the pumpkin vines, which have spread their sprawling limbs all across the lawn, and reveal the leggy, uncut grass and weeds beneath, to cull the bolted lettuce and pick the ripening chillies. Oh so many chillies! My aubergines have been chugging away steadily, providing us with grilled, pickled, baked and fried dishes, mousaka, baba ganoush and sandwich fillers. I plagued everyone with my aubergine photos and recipes last year, so this year I have only one image, just because I can’t help myself. Continue reading

Plum tart

fruitcloseI’m often to be found in front of a food programme on the TV, with a scrap of paper, frantically writing down what I’m convinvced will be the most amazing recipe In The World. I guess it’s part of my desire to catalogue everything, to reduce impermenance to solid state. Or something.

Usually these are stored with the other, curling and yellowing scraps on the off chance I’ll do something with them. As I tend to be a ‘what can I do with this ingredient’ kind of cook, I rarely get through my little pile.

After watching Yotam Ottolenghi working his way around the middle east recently on a bunch of SBS reruns, I scribbled down his Goats cheese and fig tart. And filed it on my little pile, thinking one day I’d do something with it that didn’t use goat’s cheese (which is, of course, the spawn of the devil). I then noticed a blogger tweeting about buying figs and goats cheese and realised she was making this dish; I was in Thomas Dux at the time, and shortly afterward found myself looking at a delicious pile of glossy plums. Deep purple red and lovely pale creamy pink ones. ‘What the heck’ I thought, and bought them, along with some ricotta, and made my version of this tart. I won’t list all the ingredients because, as I later found, SBS have done it for me (see link above), save to say I used a sheet of puff pastry, lemon thyme from my garden and lime, rather than lemon.

pie before

 It looked and smelled gorgeous even before it went into the oven. I found I had to leave it in longer than I’d expected because the centre was still too soft, which gave a pleasingly burnt sugar tang. I liked it anyway:

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It was mighty good, and surprisingly not very sweet. 7/10 – but I prefer my frangipane mix to this ricotta version overall I think.

Life of Camembert

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I’m eating a cheese I made myself, and it’s terrific. I’m not really one to blow my own trumpet, but hot damn! this is a good cheese! No-one could be more surprised than I at this news. I expected edible, but this – this is bloody marvellous! Was it worth the 10 days of 12 hourly sterilising / turning / refreshing-iceblocks-to-maintain-correct-temperature? The startling number of dollars invested in kit that I’m trying quite hard not to think about? Oh very much so, yes!

And so, after 20 days of tender loving care, we reveal the finished Camembert, born in my cheese making class less than 3 weeks ago.

IMG_3238I was particularly surprised at the thickness of the mould; how soft and downy it was. I normally hate the fluffy bits, cutting them off and discarding them, forlorn at the edge of my plate. But this mould was….different. Not off tasting. It tasted of… not much, actually. This is good as far as I’m concerned. It left me able to concentrate on the main event – the cheese itself.

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It’s creamy, of course, but yet with an edge of bitterness that, for me at least, is the difference between a brie and a camembert. There’s a layer of super soft, silky cheese just under the fluffy rind – to call it rind doesn’t do it justice – and a harder inner with a bit more bite. To be honest, it could do with ripening for another week or so – it’s only 20 days old, poor thing – but we were overwhelmed with excitement and just couldna take nae more.

Would I do it all again? Hell yeah!

Whey to Go….

The cheese puns continue apace. It’s been a week since the cheesemaking course, and I thought I’d update you budding cheese makers with the baby camembert’s progress.

So: the day after the course, it was time to remove the hoops from my very  own camembert, which had been draining quietly for 24 hours.

After my extensive training in sterlising everything (thank you Juan and John), I was well prepared to scrub up, exclude the cat from the kitchen and Reveal the Cheese.

camembert first day

And there is it. Mould-less proto-Camembert, awaiting it’s ripening. I salted it as per the instructions:

salting

There was even an email from the lovely peeps at Home Cheesemaking Co reminding me it was time to start ripening the cheese, with pictures and everything. I love these chaps.

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The biggest problem I had was working out where I could store it at the right temperature to ripen – it needed to be between 12 & 15 degrees. Way too warm for the fridge, way too cool for the house. Being a bit OCD I wondered around the house with one of those meat probes with a digital read out, trying to find the perfect spot. Hard to find in NSW in the autumn! In the end I decided to buy an esky and keep it at the right temperature with ice blocks. So every 12 hours, I’ve been changing the ice blocks over, and the meat probe has been invaluable in telling me exactly what climes the chese is experiencing. Excessive? Err, yes, probably, but it’s for the love of the thing….

On day 6, Mould Appeared:

mould appearedI can safely say I’ve never been more happy to see mould!

I’ll update this as the cheese grows it’s full furry coat!

The Only Whey is Up….

It was a filthy, cold, wet day in Kariong as the small group of us shuffled into the Rotary club premises, our home for the next 8 hours while we talked cheese. And made cheese, photographed cheese and ate cheese.

The Home Cheesemaking Co are a knowledgeable, delightful & friendly bunch consisting of two Spanish chaps based in the Hunter, John and Juan (actually, Juan and Juan, but Juan became John some time ago so as to avoid confusion). They run courses around the state, sharing their extensive experience of cheese making in all its forms from the basic (the course I was on), to a 2 day masterclass. Along the way, the charismatic John sharing his tales of boyhood cheese making in his native country – amongst other gems tales of how his grandmother would stick her (probably unwashed) paws into the curds to test temperature, and how everyone used to drink raw, unpasteurised milk – and it never done him no harm.

Because if there’s one thing Juan and John are completely obsessed about, it’s hygiene. From the minute we walked in, and all day long, we were boiling, Milton-ing and alcohol-gelling ourselves and everything else in sight with operating theatre strictness. This appealed to me greatly as I once saw a picture of a bacteria culture of a hand print, teeming with micro-organisms, and I’m still scarred.

I know that cheese is full of live stuff, and this is good, but, only the right live stuff is the good stuff and the other stuff is Bad. (This reminds me suddenly of a conversation I had with a council official last week about the local water quality. She informed me sagely that the discolouration I experienced was due to excess manganese in the supply, but not to worry; it was a naturally occurring mineral so it was all safe. I pointed out that uranium is also naturally occurring, but that didn’t make it safe. There was a long, confused silence on the other end of the phone. But I digress).

They have 25 cows on their farm and are currently milking Daisy (yup, she really is called Daisy. All their cows have names – one labours under the mighty title of Lady Gaga) and so it was thanks to Daisy that I snuck my first ever drink of raw, unpasteurised milk while no-one was looking.

daisy 2Say hello to Daisy. And her ‘teats’.

I was expecting essence of waving, knee deep grassy fields; actually it tasted like milk. Lovely, creamy, tasty milk, but basically milk. Juan pasteurised the milk we would be using for the cheese as the first step in the class – they are thorough, these guys, and knew at least one of our crowd had their own goat – and described the hygiene measures they take during the milking process. Daisy even gets her udders alcohol gelled after milking (delightfully, John referred to these throughout as her teats – but with his accent, I heard ‘tits’, & I prefer my interpretation).

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Lovely fresh, raw milk being pasteurised. See the cream!

After pasteurising, we took up a station in pairs:

cheesestations

Cheese stations for the day – cheese hoops and special draining cloths on the right

and watched while Juan showed us how to create a ‘starter’ from a culture called flora danica – mesophilic, ie mid temperature, for soft cheeses such as camembert. As this process takes 24 hours, he whipped out one he’d made earlier; a runny, yoghurty mix which kicks off the cheese.

juanstarter

Behold! The starter Juan made earlier! John checks the water bath temp

And then it was all go to start making our own cheeses. First there was the heating of the newly pasteurised milk to exactly the right temperature, using a water bath. The characteristics of different cheeses can be influenced by these temperatures.

heating in waterbath

Using a water bath allows you regulate the temperature very closely

We added calcium chloride, to reduce any potential ammonia taint caused by the action of the camembert mould, and then the starter culture, and finally the vegetable rennet. Rennet made the milk set to a blancmange like texture, which, following a wonderfully detailed instruction sheet, we left until it was ready to cut into cubes of about 1.5 inches.

It’s important not to cut too early, as that affects the quality of the cheese enormously, so Juan showed us how to test the curd first:

curd not readyNot ready yet – cut curd has softer, rounded edges

curd readyReady – sample cut has a sharp, well defined edge

cutting curd

The cut curd

As the cubes of curd set, they leaked more and more fluid and grew much smaller, leaving the yellow tinged whey which we used later to make ricotta.

movingcurdShrunken curd and lots of whey

There were intervals of moving the curd gently and leaving the curd to set, during which time we all tucked into salad and pasta cooked by John, with home grown veggies and using ricotta, caerphilly and boccini all made by the pair previously. Followed by creme caramel with cream from – you guessed it – Daisy the cow. Can’t say I’ve ever been on a course where there was a hand cooked hot lunch provided, plus dessert, and it was delicious!

Once the curds had been oh-so-carefully ladled into the drainage hoops, everyone’s whey was collected and placed in a large saucepan for Juan to demonstrate making our second cheese of the day, whey ricotta.

thewhey

Although not essential, he added whole milk to the whey in order to increase the yield and make for a creamier result, and brought it slowly to temperature, stirring all the while. He added a splash of plain old vinegar (see Milk + Vinegar = Cheese, previously), and the milk split, pretty much immediately, into curds. Alchemy!

ricotta curds

Small particles of curds in the whey ricotta

Unlike the camembert, where gentle scooping to preserve the form of the curd was super important, it seemed less so for ricotta, as Juan ladled the curds deftly into a special colander-like mini basket. After draining for 10 minutes it was ready to eat. Like magic – a second cheese from the leftovers of the camembert making.

Handily, the ricotta demo filled some time between the ladling of the curds and the first 2 turns – the cheeses are carefully picked up, held firmly and whipped over as fast as possible.

It was surprisingly slippery – as well as being wet from the draining curds, the special blue plastic ‘cloth’ – a sort of modern cheese cloth – is quite low friction. I froze with indecision when it came to turning mine – did I have a firm enough grip?  was I about to spatter hours of work all over me and the workbench? – but I did it, and the curds settled back to further draining. It was astonishing how much the cheeses reduced in size injust a couple of hours – from being level with the top of the hoops, to, having lost an inch after an hour, and reduced by half in 2.

filledhoopsmycamembert2ndturn

The curds lost liquid steadily, from freshly filled, to half the size

Finally we gathered round Juan one last time, as he described what we’d be doing over the next 2 weeks to our precious baby cheeses. Sterilising things featured heavily, as did precise temperatures for the ripening. We’d be turning the cheeses every 2 days for the next 8 – 10 days until the mould started to grow and cover the whole cheese. Then storing them in special breathable paper for another fortnight, at cooler temperatures still. (All the equipment, moulds and tools are available to buy from their website).

Then it was time to eat again. And eat we did – despite being fairly rammed from our enormous lunch, glasses of wine and a big plate of cheeses appeared, complete with homemade quince paste, and a selection of fruit. All the cheese – obviously – made by John & Juan; a rustic young orange cheddar, a 6 week old camembert, and a fabulous blue that was creamy and soft, and not at all ammonic. If this is what the calcium chloride does for a cheese, it’s a damn good idea! The whey ricotta, still warm from its birthing, we scooped onto crackers and ate with grapes. Lovely.

All in all, a terrific course – I’d already read a Home Cheesemaking Book by an American author, but there’s absolutely no substitute for being able to ask constant, probably inane questions, and seeing something come to life in front of you. And it was great fun too!

10/10

Home Cheesemaking Co

www.homecheesemaking.com.au

I have large pumpkins

I have large pumpkins. Well, that is to say, the plants are enormous, rambling things, stretching out over my lawn for tens of feet. Unfortunately they don’t appear to be self fertile, and in the massive jumble of leaves it is no longer possible to tell if both plants are still going, or whether the smaller, weaker one has died. The result is, I have hundreds of flowers of both males and female persuasion, and so far, only 2 pumpkins.

Finally realising that my cross pollinating all these flowers wasn’t coming to anything, made me think about flower stuffing. I haven’t been all that keen on stuffed courgette flowers – too faffy, too much deep frying – but I was interested to read that the habit of stuffing courgette flowers may have arisen from stuffing pumpkin flowers. It pains me to see those lovely plump yellow baby globes rotting, unfertilised, on the vine, so I determined to give it a go.

Seeing as I’d made some ricotta and it was a rainy weekend, I figured my stars had aligned* and plucked a mass of pumpkins avec flower, as well as some thyme.

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I mashed the picked thyme leaves into the ricotta, along with some light cream and olive oil, salt and pepper,IMG_2984 and spooned this into each flower. IMG_2987I wasn’t sure whether to remove the stamens, so I opted to remove it in half the batch and leave half (it seemed to make no difference to the result).

IMG_2989Then I made up a batter of egg, water and tapioca flour, dunked the whole lot in and fried in sunflower oil.IMG_2990

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Frying them in a wok allowed me to arrange them such that the thicker pumpkin end cooked for longer than the more delicate flower end. The result was surprisingly yummy – though the batter could have been slightly crispier, the filling suited the thyme and pepper perfectly.IMG_2994

*which is of course, ridiculous, astrological twaddle that I have no truck with

Milk + vinegar = cheese

Yup, I was surprised at the simplicity too.

I bought a cheese making kit last year and have spectacularly failed to use it so far. My bad. Kept telling myself it was hard to get fresh, straight-from-the-dairy milk. So when we saw Over The Moon selling their lovely milk (and cream, and ricotta and many good things) at The Entrance Market recently, there really was no excuse. We bought 2 litres of whole, unhomogenised milk.

cheese1

Back home, I got out the Home Cheese Making book, and started to read. I soon realised that I didn’t have the starter stuff they were talking about. In the dim distant bits of my brain that hold onto this sort of thing, I recalled the chaps at the Home Cheese Making Co telling me something about making a starter, with lots of talk of insulated tubs and keeping things at 72 degrees for 24 hours. Or some such. As my course with them isn’t until April, I couldn’t cross examine them for a few weeks so I plumped for the easiest recipe in the book instead – queso blanco.

This is a soft white cheese, often used for frying – like a haloumi I suppose. Ingredients:

  • whole milk
  • cider vinegar

cheese2 cheese3Sounded up my street. I took the milk, brought it to 185°F and added 2 tablespoons of vinegar.The recipe wasn’t clear on whether to take the milk off the heat so I left it on, seeing as it said “you can increase the temperature to 200°F in order to use less vinegar”. The milk started to split and curdle, and a few curds floated to the top. Not a huge amount really, so I let it go for 5 minutes or so, and then drained it through muslin folded 4 times.

strainedqueso

Something made me save the whey – I’d heard you can make ricotta from whey – so once I’d knotted the muslin & hung up the queso blanco to drip on my jelly bag stand,quesodraining I brought the whey up to 200°F again, and added another tablespoon of vinegar. This time, it instantly spilt into large lumps of curd and the whey changed colour to a faintly greenish thin liquid. Bingo!ricotta curdsthis time the curds split out of the whey instantly

wheycurds2more curds, slightly greenish thin whey

I drained the whey down the sink, and the resulting curd lump (aka ricotta) was actually bigger than the lump of queso blanco. Weird! Science in action! I feel like an alchemist.

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Ricotta curds

We let both bags of curd drain for about 5 or 6 hours, until they stopped dripping. The curds were slightly rubbery, and very bland, with the queso blanco being the firmer of the two.

bothcheesesdraining

both cheeses draining with the aid of a jelly strainer stand

Adding salt and a little cream to the ricotta untterly transformed it though – it became a delicious, if slightly rubberier than normal ricotta.

And as for the queso blanco….quesoafter6hrs

It was, as promised by the book, delicious fried with salt & pepper!

panfriedqueso

I can’t believe how simple it is! The ricotta was my favourite of the two, and was also delicious with a drizzle of honey.