Kitchen DIY: Ricotta

When I was a child there was a popular T-shirt for sale in tourist shops, emblazoned with a slogan about New Zealand being a place with three million people and 70 million sheep. I think it was the 1980s version of the fake New Zealand tourism posters in Murray’s office in Flight of the Conchords (“New Zealand: your mum would like it” etc).Anyway, while the human population has grown to four million, the sheep have dwindled to 32 million. Dairy farms now rule the roost, with around six million cows dotting the landscape.

Rush hour (image via here)

Rather than making New Zealand the land of milk and honey, intensive dairy farming is blamed for fouling our waterways and having a serious impact on soil quality. As if that wasn’t bad enough, market forces mean dairy products are ridiculously expensive, organic or not.
But let me step off my soapbox for a minute and show you my latest favourite trick, DIY ricotta. I don’t have the patience or the extreme attention to hygenic detail to make my own proper cheeses, but ricotta is a cinch.

DIY Ricotta
I found this recipe through Twitter, but I can’t now really recall exactly where it came from. I wrote it down on a Post-it in shorthand (see, being a journalist can be useful occasionally) and promptly lost the link. Proper ricotta is made from the whey byproduct of other cheesemaking, but this is the cheat’s version. Milk thermometers are easily found at kitchen shops (Wellingtonians: buy them upstairs at Moore Wilsons).

1 litre full fat, not homogenised milk
125ml cream
2Tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar
pinch of salt

Put all ingredients into a large and very clean pot. Heat slowly, stirring often, to 96deg C (205degF – which might be easier to see on your thermometer). Take off the heat and let rest for 15 minutes. While that’s happening, line a sieve with clean muslin (or a new Chux cloth) and set it over a deep bowl. Pour the curd-y mixture into this and let the whey drain away.
At this point, you can eat the ricotta warm, drizzled with honey, or you can let it drain in the fridge overnight, covered. Makes about 200g.

Have you ventured into the whole of cheesemaking?

Random Recipe #10: Moro Soup

A note to Antipodean readers before we begin: I’m sorry if you were enticed here by the ‘Moro Soup’ heading. This is not a post about turning the iconic chocolate bar, apparently beloved by triathletes (if you believe the ad campaigns), into a soup. Stop reading now before you get disappointed.

For everyone else, the real title should be ‘Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway’. It’s from Moro East, the lovely book by Sam and Sam Clark of Moro restaurant fame about their East End allotment, with recipes from fellow allotment holders interspersed with their own creations. It’s particularly poignant now as the allotment has been bulldozed in the name of the 2012 London Olympics. Perhaps athletes do exist on chocolate bars after all.

Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway
The book was my choice for Random Recipes #10, brought to you by Belleau Kitchen AND Jac of Tinned Tomatoes, who hosts a monthly soup challenge called No Croutons Required. Not only does this deliciously rustic soup fit the NCR vegetarian criteria, but it just happened to use the huge bunch of celery and masses of spring onions in my fridge. I took a few shortcuts along the way – I used two tins of cannellini beans rather than soaking and cooking my own, plus I used a tin of tomatoes rather than “500g of flavoursome fresh tomatoes”, as the latter are pretty thin on the ground here at present.
However I faithfully followed the recipe for DIY celery salt, which is completely addictive. Even if you’re not in the mood for soup, you’ve got to try this.

250g dried cannellini beans, soaked in cold water overnight, then drained and cooked in fresh water for about an hour, or until tender (or two tins of beans, drained and rinsed)
10 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large head of celery, trimmed of roots but including leaves, sliced into 2cm chunks
8 spring onions, roots trimed but including green tops, sliced into 1cm chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1tsp caraway seeds
500g fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped (or 1 440g tin)
1tsp celery salt (recipe follows)

To serve:
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
a small bunch of rocket
black olives
Turkish bread
Celery salt

Heat six tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the celery. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, then add the spring onions, garlic, caraway and a pinch of salt. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the tomatoes and celery salt and cook for a further five minutes.
Add the beans and either 250ml of their cooking liquid or water, plus the remaining four tablespoons of olive oil. Bring to a simmer, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for another five minutes. Check the seasoning and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of celery salt. Rocket, spring onions, black olives and Turkish bread are suggested accompaniments. Makes enough for four.

DIY Celery Salt
Take a handful of green celery leaves and put them on a baking tray. Dry them in a low-medium oven until completely dry but not scorched (takes about 10 minutes). Crumble to a powder with your fingers, then mix with equal parts of flaky (eg Marlborough or Maldon) salt.

The glass jars are half empty

It’s not much, I know, but I wanted to show you the extent of my Christmas preparations as they stand so far. I went to the supermarket this morning too, but you can shoot me if I ever try to document that (no offence to the people who do).

It might not look like much but I find scraping the bits of glue and old label off jars to be one of the most tedious tasks of all time. Now it’s done though – well, for this batch, anyway – I can’t wait to get started.

How are your Christmas makings and bakings coming along? Any progress? Lots of inspiration can be found here.

Christmas countdown

Do you realise there are just 54 more making and baking days ’til Christmas? Quick, reach for the smelling salts!

I’m in a bit of a quandary about when to start my Christmas activities this year, partly due to our imminent house move on December 1. On one hand, I would love to move into our new house and think, ‘a-ha, thank goodness I did all that baking and preserving and general faffing about already’. But on the other, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to add to the pile of things to wrap and pack and move. Actually, filled jars and tins might stand a better chance of making it across town than empty ones. I can already envisage the conversation with the Boy Wonder:

Me: What happened to all the empty jars in the pantry?
Him: I put them in the recycling.
Me: But I’ve been saving those all year!
Him: Too bad. We’ve got enough to do without packing empty jars.
Me: And what about the Christmas cake?
Him: What Christmas cake?
Me: The big square package in the box in the pantry
Him: Oh, I thought that was just rubbish. I threw it out…

In the meantime, I’ve been revisiting what I made last year, because a friend and I are making plans to have a Christmas makeathon together. Top of the list will be these deliciously spicy Christmas tree decorations, not least because the recipe makes loads AND the dough can be frozen. Next, the ever-popular best-ever brownies (also makes lots and can be frozen). If you’re really short on time, then both the date truffle fudge and the chocolate body scrub can be made in minutes (and the former will be consumed even faster).

One decision I haven’t made yet though is what kind of Christmas cake we’ll be having this year. I’m not sure I want the Small Girl to get a taste for the brandy-soaked figs and chunks of dark chocolate that stud our traditional cake, but I can’t decide what else to make. Any ideas gratefully received.

If you need a little more inspiration to get your Christmas planning underway, I suggest checking out Vanessa Kimball’s Let’s Make Christmas idea (which has already got scores of organised people showing off what they’ve made already) or Polka Dot Daze’s Christmas Challenge. Don’t dilly-dally though, there’s not much time left!

Kitchen DIY: Fried Eggs

I know you’ll think I’ve really flipped out over this one, but I was reading MFK Fisher’s hilarious essay ‘How Not To Cook An Egg’ (in Love in a dish and other pieces) and it occurred to me that I had never fried an egg. I remember my dad making them occasionally for breakfast when I was a child, but I’ve never been that keen on eggy dishes. In fact, I never really fancied them at all until I was pregnant and eating a runny egg yolk was seen as akin to shooting up in the toilets.

Fisher’s piece on eggs is a wonderful piece of writing, with all sorts of historical fact (and fiction) and useful information – such as the method for ‘frying’ an egg that I’ll detail below. But above all I love it because it begins with this line:

Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.

Fried Eggs a la MFK Fisher
Fisher says that a biochemist once told her that every minute an egg is cooked makes it take three hours longer to digest. Whether this is true or not, it makes sense to me for eggs to be as lightly cooked as possible. Don’t make me tell you about the powdery, sulphur-laden boiled eggs of boarding school lunches, I couldn’t stand to relive them.
Fisher calls this method “a compromise” – I call it quick and foolproof.

The freshest, most free-range eggs you can get, at room temperature
Olive oil

Heat a shallow, heavy pan and drop in a knob of butter and a drop of oil. Heat until it is sizzling, then break in an egg or two. Clamp a lid on tightly, turn off the heat and leave for three minutes. When the time is up, slip the egg(s) onto a slice of freshly made toast. The eggs will be “tender and firm and very good”.

How do you fry eggs?