Say Cheese –

say-cheeseWelcome to the first post in a series on cheese making, a topic much simpler than you might think. It’s the process of heating milk to the point that curds (the delicious fat solids) separate from the whey (the watery by-product). And I’m not talking about the curds couch-surfing at a mate’s place while the whey rips up all their old photos and changes the locks, I’m talking about bacteria, enzymes and acids. Using this process you can essentially make most other forms of cheese and I’ll cover this soon.

scooping the curds
What will I need to make cheese?
Some cheese requires specific equipment and we will cover this when the time comes, but for now let’s keep it simple, the basics you will need are:
  • Large pot (We use a 10 lt solid base pot)
  • Colander and/or cheese cloth (Cheese cloth is cheap and can be purchased in bulk from a sewing store)
  • Ladle or stirring spoon
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Unless you have a cow, goat or other lactating animal that you’re prepared to harvest, it’s fine to use store bought milk. Yes, you can buy unpasteurized (Bath milk) but it’s whey too expensive. (That was my little joke). I have tried different brands of supermarket milk and there isn’t much of a difference, I personally use A2.
Whole Milk Ricotta is probably the easiest and it’s made from things you probably already have in your kitchen, here are the steps:
  • tempAdd 3 1/2 litres milk to a large pot on a medium heat.
  • Dissolve one teaspoon of citric acid in 50ml of water and add to milk with half a teaspoon of salt. Mix the milk thoroughly, you want to heat the milk but not boil it.
  • Stir often to prevent scorching.
  • Heat the milk to 85-90°C and as soon as the curds and whey separate turn off the heat and let it sit  undisturbed for 10 minutes.
  • Scoop the curds out and drain through a colander or cheese cloth.
  • The cheese is ready to eat immediately.
  • For a creamier consistency, add 1/2 cup of cream at the end and mix.

You can store in a covered container in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. I really do love cheese, even if it doesn’t always love me back. Try it in ravioli using our pasta recipe for dinner, even on toast for breakfast with a little chilli and avocado. What a way to start the day!

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$100 Pizza Oven

$100-pizza-oven

I was hungry for pizza so I built a pizza oven, that makes sense right? As most of you might of gathered by now we like food an awful lot, especially baking and our, lets call it a “healthy” obsession takes up a good portion of our time. So when we heard the Melbourne Pizza Festival was coming to town we were sold on the idea. Mouth watering succulent pizza would be on offer and who are we to refuse, but sadly we only managed to get our mouths around just two slices and that just wasn’t quite enough to tame our wild stomachs. I’m not saying the festival or pizza wasn’t good, far from it, but unfortunetly for us they had failed to allow room for half of Melbourne to fit and so resulted in a very crowded venue, and a very hungry us. It was decided: we need a wood fired oven, but one that could be abandoned should the need arise due to our renting status, and it must be completed on a budget. Challenge accepted.

pizza-photo-stripThink of this as a first try; the pizza oven you build to hone your pizza oven building skills. If everything goes to plan over the next twelve months we will be moving on and buying our first home and a whole new oven will need to be built. 

The basics of an oven are somewhat simple, heat – in this instance from a fire and thermal mass – bricks and render (clay would have been a better for thermal mass but I’m lazy so render will do). The fire heats the oven and the bricks store the energy to be released and used to cook your pizza, bread, roast, whatever your appetite calls for. This oven was built with this in mind but on a budget, here we go…

Materials and Cost breakdown

5 Pallets – Donated
18 Cement paving stones – Had
180’ish Bricks (old clinkers) – Had
Chicken wire (about 2sqm) – Had
Chimney if required  – Had
Sand – $60 for 2/3 meter 
Lime – $10
Cement -$15

Total $85

With the fifteen dollars we had spare I’m going to buy a bottle of wine and christen her this weekend, results to come!

Instructions – The boring bit

The pictures are pretty self explanatory, I started with a base (pallets donated by a local builder) and then built up. I wanted to use some cement sheeting for insulation over the pallets but with the budget in mind I laid some old cement paving stones insteed, tightly layering them on the pallets. Then I mortared (MIX 4-1-1) in a line of bricks around the edge of the base and filled the centre with tightly packed sand. The sand was then covered with bricks that were persuaded into place with a mallet, the base is tightly packed but not set with mortar as it’s the baking surface.

Then I started laying my bricks, around and around leaving some room for an entry at the front. Using an old length of steel from our garden, I formed a lintel and set a terracotta arch on the lintel and continued to taper the brick dome inwards. From here I created a platform inside the dome and covered it with sand shaping the inside of the dome and giving the bricks something to rest on while being laid and then setting in place.

I added a length of chimney from the front of the dome, held in place with chicken wire which also helps to strengthen the structure. After a day I carefully removed the platform and shaping sand and then set to work rendering the facade, this not only looks nice but increases the thermal mass. The render is about the same mix as the mortar but with a little more lime for flexibility. Over the bricks I have a render layer then a sheet of chicken wire to aid with strength and topped with a smooth render layer. At its thickest point the oven would be almost twenty centimetres.
pizza
What could I have done different?
Well if money wasn’t an object, almost everything, but this amaizingly cheap project took me about six hours in total and came in under budget. I call success, now who’s for a slice of pizza?

backyard bbq (or, the weather outside is weather)

The small town that we live in is almost 600 metres elevated, and so we get a little more winter than others living around Melbourne. For the most part, this is exactly to our taste, and part of the reason we moved there. However, following a series of below zero temperature mornings, we welcomed a sunny-ish Saturday and made the effort to boost its warmth by lighting a fire.

And let’s face it, by having a little red wine.mixed meats

The fire-pit in our backyard gives us much joy. In the Australian tradition, it has been constructed from various bits and pieces that were not designed for that purpose. Ours for example, is a fine combination of brake drum, metal pipe and something that looks exactly like a grill plate, works like a grill plate (now smells like a grill plate) but isn’t! Gian Carlo forged it for us and we try to pay our respects to it regularly.

meat prepSo on this darling of a day, a quick trip to the local butcher yielded some excellent meats of the aquatic, feathered and land-based variety. We planned to do the simplest of bbq-ing and let the meat speak for itself. Pork ribs, eye fillet and tuna were grilled straight up.

I’m hoping the photographs do the talking here, because really, there isn’t much to say. Simplicity itself. There is just something about meat cooked on a bbq isn’t there? Of course, we didn’t manage to keep it entirely simple and ended up making a few ‘side dishes’, but more on that another time.

tuna, quick grilled and meltingly pink

tuna, quick grilled and meltingly pink

High five! St Johns, Alexandra

jam rule

Recognition where it’s due.

We’d like to high five the ladies at the St Johns Anglican Church fete in Alexandra, Victoria. They made a delicious Raspberry and Blood Plum Jam.

I have been waiting to open this jam since March because of the the 2 jam rule.

The 2 jam rule is, not suprisingly, that we are only allowed to have two jars of jam open at any one time. It’s not weird.  Things get out of hand quickly otherwise. Fridge space is very important real estate in our house. There have been murmurs to adapt this rule for chutneys… but that dog won’t hunt, monsignor.

A day off work, some of rigoniman’s fresh bread, some fancy French butter (naughty), and this jam. Happiness.

Everything You See I Owe To Spaghetti

pasta crop

One of the many benefits of having chickens is fresh eggs and there’s no shortage of uses, but one of Sophia Loren and our favourites is fresh pasta. For each person your going to need about one hundred grams of fine flour, we use the same flour I bake with (The aptly named – Bakers’ flour), you can substitute with plain flour but your pasta will be a little heavier. You will also need one free range egg. For each additional person add another hundred grams of flour and an additional egg. Here I have covered two methods, one is beautiful and authentic, the other is much quicker but more realistic,  you should definitely try both.

Option one

Lightly sprinkle the pasta length with flour and fold loosely in half, repeat and repeat taking care to keep it loose until you have a roll you can easily handle. Then with a sharp knife cut across the roll creating whatever pasta width you like, skinny for spaghetti, fatter for fettuccine, my personal favourite is a mix.

DSC_0052Pour a glass of red wine and consume; you need to get your head in the right place for this. Now sift one hundred grams of flour on your bench and make a well in the middle then add an egg into the well. With one finger or a fork start mixing in the flour, a small amount at first then continuing with your whole hand. You are looking for a light doughy consistency that’s almost sticky. If time permits, rest this dough in the fridge for an hour.

Option two

Add one hundred grams of flour and one egg to your food processor and pulse until the mix forms small grains. Test the consistency and add a small amount of water or flour if required.

Then

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Sprinkle some flour on your bench and divide your dough into halves. If you have a pasta roller then great, if not then pour another glass of wine. You could easily use a rolling pin but somehow the wine bottle feels more involved. Using the wine bottle roll your dough into long lasagne sheets adding an extra sprinkling of flour if it starts to stick. continue until your pasta is no more than one millimetre thick.

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DSC_0087Half fill a large pot with water and add a good pinch a salt. Bring to the boil, but DON’T add any oil, many people do this and it’s a big no-no. The oil clings to your pasta and prevents your sauce and her beautiful flavour from coating and infusing its delicious flavours. Once the water has come to the boil add your pasta and stir occasionally until cooked, this takes less than five minutes so be on your guard.


Test your pasta, and once you’re happy it’s cooked, strain it and let drain for about thirty seconds, then after it’s dry pop back in the pot with a ladle full of your desired sauce and combine, serve (or pop the lid back on until you’re ready).

bon appétite.

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The Salami Test

salami tit

Some six weeks back Gian Carlo and I attended Salami School. Fine tuning our charcuterie skills was the aim of the day, but Gian Carlo was certain that getting his hands dirty would bring those long lost salami secrets flooding back to him from a childhood as a junior charcutier back in Italy. The day was incredible and a real culinary sensation, James our host not only welcomed us into his home but was more than happy to share his wealth of knowledge and if that wasn’t already enough he then organised a near 100 kilogram pig for for our own salami day the following weekend.

DSC_0604Our Salami day was also a massive success and our curing room is now bursting at the rafters. But with everything we produced still curing, we still have a couple more weeks before we can try our handy work. But the salami from Salami School requires no more waiting, which is good because we are only becoming more and more impatient, also a little hungry.
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The first test was done by Gian Carlo last weekend: a success he proclaimed. The second test was done by friends at the local brewery and as the whole salami was consumed in about twenty seconds I’m claiming this as a success as well. And the final test, I call it “The Pizza Test” – Excellent!