the magical smell of quince

quince jelly

The hardest thing about making quince jelly is getting your face off the quince. Quince smells so good. It’s a bit silly how good it smells. I can’t think of a single, suitable word to describe it. Some people call it ‘floral’ but I’m not sure that’s enough.

quince and book

quince with the bloom rubbed off on the left, and still fuzzy on the right.

We found a kilo bag of quince going cheap at our grocer, and after checking it for that important and mysterious smell, and deciding that we can live with the few bruises it had, it was snapped up.

chop quince

After a few days of leaving the quince in the kitchen like a bunch of flowers, I decided to go ahead and make jelly.

But I fell for the same trick as usual. This is the trick where you think you will get heaps of jam and then you only get a few jars. I thought a kilo would make a reasonable output? No.  I got two jars of quince jelly. Two jars!!

[Sad trombone noise]

I’m almost positive that no jam recipe has ever yielded what it is meant to. How rude.

Look at all those empty jars. Pffft.

The paucity of my result is nothing against this recipe though. Because I should say I chose this recipe for a good reason. It is a real life recipe.

What I mean by real life recipe is this. When I buy bits of food in order to preserve it, I never seem to buy 1.7 kg of quince, or 4 cups of chopped quince, or 20 kilos of quince, or whatever our preserving books tend to arbitrarily demand. But this recipe, this wonderfully practical recipe, gives you a ratio of sugar to strained quince juice. And that sir, is the business.

(Just take it from me, and use more than a kilo of fruit).

Quince Jelly

straining

Variation on the Apple and herb jelly by Pam Corbin, River Cottage Handbook No. 2.

Ingredients are Just quince and sugar. (Check for the inimitable smell)

1. Chop up the quince. No need to peel or core.

2. Put in a pot for cooking jam in, cover with water. At this point you could add something like cinnamon or cloves if you wanted some spice flavour.

3. Bring to a boil, then simmer until fruit is nice and soft. For me with 1kg this was about 1.5 hours.

4. Strain and keep juice. If you have a jelly bag setup, go for it. Feed the quince scraps to your chickens.

5. Maths time.  Sorry, but this is where the ratio comes in. For each 600ml of liquid you have, get 450g of sugar.

6. Put the quince juice and the sugar back on heat, and return to the boil until reaching setting point. I like the wrinkle test best.

7. Pour into sterilised jars.  Probably not as many as you thought you would need.

We generally leave any preserves on a wooden counter, or bread board, at least overnight before moving them into the preserve cupboard. It’s something to do with getting a good seal. Haha. is it possible to use the word seal without imagining the marine seal? Nope.

preserve cupboard

Would you look at that. I always dreamt of having a cupboard full of preserves in beautiful colours.  Aim high in life!

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!

$100 Pizza Oven

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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?

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.

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!

weird condiment #1

This one harks back to our Tassie travels, again. Rigoniman has already described the lovely St Andrews Inn and his biscuit experience there… but it bears mentioning again because it’s the same place were were introduced to Tomato Jam. Honestly, I can’t remember actually eating the tomato jam there, but we must have, because otherwise why would we have bought two jars of it to take home? Seems like a strange punt to make on a weird sounding condiment.

tassie - st andrews inn - jumpOf course, it’s very good. We ate both jars pretty quickly, and found it to be delicious on cheese or charcuterie platters and on such things as bacon and egg sandwiches.  Yes it’s sweet, yes it’s savoury. But it works.

There was a sad period of time between finishing the second jar and discovering a recipe for it. Oh happy day to flick the pages and see the simple heading TOMATO JAM! You may already have guessed where we found it. Sally Wise’s A year in a bottle. Yeah.

Our crazy bumper tomato crop this summer meant we were almost overwhelmed,  and as such we managed to make two batches of tomato jam. The mini romas contributed a really sweet and intense flavour.

photoAnd now we live in the delicious world of tomato jam again, and life is good. The recipe includes an optional ingredient of ginger. It’s gives a subtle result and I’m just as happy without it, but go ahead if you are keen on it. I recommend dumping the tomatoes in the food processor (after washing them) and giving them a quick whazz, because, well it’s so much quicker and easier than chopping them, and they break down super fast, which means, you reach a set quite quickly. Totally different to large tomatoes, which have more water content.

You can find the recipe here, however, it’s not quite the same as the book (hint: use less sugar, and round up the lemon juice). We strongly urge you to give it a go (in fact this post was spurred on by a text yesterday from a friend asking how-to (hey mards!)). And then you can tell us what else this weird condiment is good with…

Salami School

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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