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
.
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!

Advertisements

$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?

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

DSC_0584DSC_0063

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.

DSC_0064

DSC_0076

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

DSC_0102

 

 

 

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.
DSC_0620
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!

Bev Perkins’ Ginger Apple Jam

ti

A good friend of ours, let’s call him Anthony Bianco (pictured eating sandwich), came up sandfor a visit last weekend and with him about twenty file kilos of apples picked fresh from northern Victoria. It seams he has stumbled upon a tree close enough to a fence line and ripe for the picking, and so helped reduce the terrible burden to the tree’s owners. Now I love eating apples as much as the next guy, but the more opportunist side of me started thinking of what to do with our bequeathed bounty.
Yesterday morning before work I found myself perusing our kitchen library for ideas. The obvious option is apple sauce, and I will make some soon, but today I felt like something new. Tucked away in the pages of the Country Women’s Association Preserve Cook Book I found this little gem, thanks Bev Perkins from East Launceston.  
To make jam thick you need pectin, most fruits contain this and turn the jam to the correct consistency during the cooking process naturally but some require a little more tweaking. The pectin in apple is found in the core and skin and so these need to be saved for use during the jam making process and later discarded before bottling. 

DSC_0555 DSC_0564

Most jams are equal parts fruit to sugar with any additional ingredients added for flavour, In this case a small amount of fresh grated ginger gives it a tart kick that really sets it off. So after peeling and coring the apples I diced the fruit and placed it in a covered bowl with a muslin bag containing the skins and cores, I then sprinkled the sugar over the mix. Letting the mix sit overnight I combined it with the fresh ginger to a pan and slowly boiled it for about an hour before bottling.

DSC_0566

The next cold morning I get it’s Bev Perkins’ Ginger Apple jam on toast with a strong black coffee, can’t wait. This recipe is worth trying, as with any CWA recipe and I can strongly advise purchase of their preserving cook book. 

Balmy for Salami

top
In Italy many years ago, dispatching and sorting the pig into curable meats was the job of my father’s family. The brothers would go from home to home assisting the villages in turning la porcetta into whichever salami they liked best. In our region of Veneto, located at the very top of Italy, they called it Salami Veneto. Not the most creative name I admit, but what the northern Italians lacked in creativity in name they also lacked in spice, in a good way.

DSC_0373DSC_0376

The Veneto salami is as un-enhanced as it comes, the pork has very little in the way of spices or other flavours and so the quality of pork we use must be perfect and the very freshest. This year our pig was supplied by James Mele of The Meat Room, who hosted us for the salami sessions a couple of weekends back.
DSC_0425DSC_0414DSC_0417
So this weekend past we set up shop Gian Carlo’s home and with knives sharpened and benches sanitised we awaited our sow. We set to butchering early Saturday morning and by that afternoon had turned a near 100kg pig into its parts there of. Minced then graded, we had various piles of meat around the room, the fat ratios are just as important as spice, Gian Carlo exclaims.
DSC_0471DSC_0457
Now days we don’t just have one style of salami, no matter how delicious it is. This year we made several including, Veneto, Calabrese cacciatore, Sopressa, Salamini and Cotechino, The first of which should be ready in four or five weeks.
DSC_0446DSC_0452DSC_0456DSC_0445
I’m not here to claim we have the best recipes and nor will I publish them, but we are certainly happy to help with advice and instruction. If you are interested in or about to start making salami or any charcuterie then fantastic, what you’re about to create will turn you off store bought small goods forever. Home made is best made. Please stay tuned for the results.
DSC_0478 DSC_0492
DSC_0523 DSC_0513
DSC_0530

Salami School

DSC_0158DSC_0227

The mornings are getting colder and I’ve pretty much made the switch from beer to wine, that’s a good sign that winter is just about here. The heavy yield garden crops of the warmer months are all but gone and so now we look for something different to preserve. Around the start of winter, usually the Queen’s birthday weekend most Italian families lock themselves away and convert their garages, sheds and kitchens into home butcher workshops; it’s salami season.

DSC_0176DSC_0165

The weekend just past was something of a test run and real treat, Giancarlo and I were able to attend an amazing day of butchery, cooking, charcuterie and most importantly coffee. Hosted near Kilmore, just north of Melbourne, in a converted stone building that anyone would be happy to have in their backyard we kicked off early and with an espresso in hand, James, our host proudly led us on a tour of his home, garden and backyard butchery. WOW!

DSC_0190DSC_0278

Organised by the Home Make It crew and the Salami Board (hosts of the massively successful Melbourne Salami Festa) we were in great hands and in my opinion they really nailed it. The day consisted of meat boning lessons – a guide on how to butcher a pig, mincing, mixing and spicing – getting the texture right is just as important as the spice mix and then a guide on filling and hanging salami.

DSC_0216DSC_0201

During the day we were treated to an amazing spectacle of food, wine and hospitality by our host, true to form from any Italian, and when it was time to go we were all sent off with our own salamis to hang as well as a few kilograms of pork sausage to cook. Most of us stayed well after the course officially finished, enjoying that day’s produce cooked in our host’s wood-fired oven all the while quaffing his chianti.

DSC_0232DSC_0264DSC_0243

From our new friend made this weekend we have already secured our own 130kg free-range sow and are planning our own full scale weekend of butchery and curing soon, stay tuned for the result.

DSC_0262 DSC_0256 DSC_0160 DSC_0237 DSC_0225 DSC_0224