Sunday, 18 July 2010

Experimental Cheesemaking.

On Thursday, Joy invited me to make cheese.  This is something I've often thought about but never actually done.  I'm not entirely sure why - fresh cheeses turn out to be astoundingly simple to make.  I don't think I'll ever buy ricotta again, though mozzarella will take some practice.

Goodness me but it was fun to play with though, the mozzarella.  You get to a point where you have to heat it up and knead and stretch it just like you would bread in order to develop those long stretchy strings that are characteristic.  What you see above is Joy, hands protected by ice cube bags, squishing a large ball of nearly had a fantastic texture.  However, we don't think we did this bit totally right - too much kneading and not enough stretching is the theory, and definitely we need to experiment again.

The first problem we encountered when we sat down to make our cheese was how much raw material to use.  The mozzarella recipe called for one gallon, that is *eight pints* of whole milk.  That's a lotta milk.  And it didn't tell us how much it made, either.  We didn't want to be drowning in little white mozzarella balls...  The ricotta recipe called for two quart, which is a little more civilised at four pints, but still.  In the end we halved both recipes, which meant that we made about two of the fist sized commercial balls of mozzarella you get, and around 275g of ricotta (1 cup).  Manageable amounts.

That still left us buying 6 pints of milk.  Lots.  Mind you, milk is hardly an expensive ingredient if you're going to play with something.  But it brings home how much we as a society must use, really.

So.  The ricotta is easyeasy.  I don't think I'll ever buy it again, it was so easy.  The recipe I used was one I clipped from a few lines on David Lebovitz's wonderful blog, that runs as follows:

2 pints whole milk
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (we used greek yoghurt and omitted the cream)
Optional: 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon white vinegar (another recipe suggests using 2 tsp lemon juice)
½ teaspoon salt

In a large pot, bring the milk, yogurt, heavy cream (if using), vinegar, and salt to a boil. Very gently boil for one to two minutes, until the milk is curdled.

(looks horrid, right?)

Meanwhile, line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth (we actually HAD cheesecloth, I always find it hard to get hold of - a very old very clean worn cotton/linen tea towel also works, it's usually possible to find something) and set it over a deep bowl.  Pour the milk mixture into the strainer and let drain for 15 minutes. Gather the cheesecloth around the curds and squeeze gently to extract any excess liquid.

Storage: Homemade ricotta is best served slightly warm, although it can be refrigerated for up to three days, if desired.

This tasted fantastic.  We ate quite a lot of it just standing there.  Joy turned it into a rather lovely looking cheesecake afterwards, with raspberries.

The mozzarella recipe came from this book by Barbara Kingsolver, which looks lovely and which I will borrow from Joy at some point when I can reliably be in the same county for any length of time.

It's an American book, but lovely.  The mozzarella recipe called for rennet and citric acid, which took a little finding.  Big supermarkets sometimes have the rennet, as do health food shops.  We pinched a little citric acid from a friend (Mr Loxley) who had been using it for making elderflower cordial, but otherwise would have resorted to the internet.  Apparently it's quite hard to get hold of because it's a substance used to cut drugs with.  We did not cut drugs, just cheese.  Anyway.  You also need a temperature probe.  Joy bought one this time, I keep breaking them.  Not sure what to do about that...  Recipe follows:

4 pints fresh whole milk (not UHT or anything)
¾ teaspoon citric acid, dissolved in 50ml of cold water - used bottled, unchlorinated water
¹⁄8 teaspoon liquid rennet dissolved in 50ml cold water (again, mineral water) - we found that the VegeRen we were using seemed to have a different concentration to the stuff the recipe was apparently using, and so just had to guess.  We used 30 drops in the end, which was probably too much, I'm not sure.  I want to read a bit more about the enzyme action - I THINK you can probably just keep adding until it suddenly starts to curdle, because I think it's a catalysis reaction going on but I need to know more.  Anyone with any ideas let me know...
1 tsp salt

Heat the milk to 55 degrees Fahrenheit on the stove (not much more than it's likely to be anyway if it's just come out of the supermarket fridge) and then add the citric acid.  At 88 degrees it should begin to curdle.  Add the rennet and keep heating to just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (that's body heat, folks on the metric side of the sea, not boiling point!).  At this point the mixture in your pan should be proper curds and watery whey.  It's meant to look like this, it's not off milk...  Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and press them together, squeezing out and pouring off as much whey as really possible as you do so.  Microwave the cheese on high for 30 seconds (the recipe says 1 minute, but we halved it, so we were guessing again at this point) and remove and knead a little to remove more whey.  This can get warm, hence Joy's use of plastic bags to protect her hands in the picture above.  Gloves would have been more elegant, but we didn't have any.  Heat again for 30 seconds and knead.  You're trying to get it to stretch a bit, so heat it once or twice more until you can get it to stretch like mozzarella should, like toffee or melted sugar at the right point.  It should go shiny.  We didn't do quite enough of this and have ended up with a cheese closer to paneer - perfectly edible but not really pizza or salad quality.  I used half of my ball to make an uninspiring pasta bake, but am going to use the other as paneer and put it in a muttar aloo curry (pea and potato, but it sounds better like that...).

All in all great fun, and like I said the ricotta in particular is a perfect recipe.  To be repeated.

I write like...

I write like
Neil Gaiman

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

NB: This was based on a piece of a story I wrote - the last blog post came up with someone I'd never even heard of. But then famously, Neil Gaiman himself hasn't come up as himself...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

London Calling?

I came back from San Francisco and I hated London.  I've never had that feeling about London before, but where it had always been exciting and vibrant, it was suddenly closed in and narrow and full of hollow people.  I'm sure that in large part the reason for this was what I'd left behind in San Francisco.  Who.  But more than that.  I loved how, at least in the parts I was hanging out in, I could really feel that it was a city for everyone, from all walks of life and all backgrounds.  The London I know is a homogeneous place of well educated well off people - often monotonous and at worst stagnant.

I fully admit that this is a mere impression, limited as much by my own background and what I have so far found in London.  There's a lot more to the place than the people on the train and the people in the offices in the City, but they are the ones I see all the time.  And they all have more to them I would hope than the commute, the job and an expensive bed they hardly see.  I'm just worried that many of them don't.  I love my friends, and I know them well enough to know that they have dreams that go further than what they happen to be doing right now.  That the job isn't the be all and end all.  We are all of us in that circle the middle class products of a middle class upbringing and a thorough education.  Factory made, almost.  There hasn't been a lot of space for mutation or variation to appear.  I guess I'm concerned that where such things do appear they are either ignored or papered over, rather than grown and developed and encouraged and valued.  

[Ha.  Picking something more or less at random to listen to while writing, I hit The Clash and find myself listening to London Calling, all about the other bits of London - which definitely exist even if I don't see them so much for myself.]

It's comforting and reassuring and impervious and safe, that fairly moneyed, fairly engaging existence.  That's good as far as it goes.  I'm very lucky indeed to have been born when I was to who I was, I know that.  I'm allowed to be a free independent modern woman, able to make my own living.  But it's a well-worn path - exactly what each of us was expected to do when our parents sent us all off at good schools at the age of 4.  The people who start out as the children of one earnings bracket step up to take their parents' places.  They even do the very same jobs their parents do.  Both of my close lawyer friends are the children of lawyers. Of course there are logical reasons for this to happen even though we all might rather it was rather less rigid than it seems to be.  Elaine (who is Irish) said to me a few months ago that she was always amazed at how class ridden British* society is, how little social mobility there is.  I am intrigued to find that it is less so in other countries, though relieved that it isn't the same everywhere - perhaps Britain can change.

Tom put it the best - 'people are following life, not chasing it'.  It's very easy to keep putting one foot in front of the other along the clear course and never to look to right or left.  I don't want to be that person.  I want to take in the view at the very least and wonder all the time about whether it would be better to drop out of the race and try out the path I can see over there.  It's not the path itself that is wrong, it is the blind choosing of it.  The passivity of never imagining anything different.  I should say that I haven't had this conversation with any of these people - it may very well be that everybody I know has thought long and hard about what else they could be doing and is well aware of what else is out there and how other people live, for them to choose if they want to.  It's what I'm doing, after all, or will be if my civil service job ever materialises. I am not in any way indicting or judging my friends for following it.  Just hoping that they are active in choice.

But it is awkward to keep looking around you.  I remember a conversation I had with my dad when I was 14 or so, when I said I believed that there was always hope, whatever happened.  He said that that was an uncomfortable way to live because it meant that one would never be content with what one actually had.  Maybe the day-dreaming about life as a chef or a gardener, both of which are well outside the ordered 9am to 1am city job spec, is the same - never content with the good of what is in front of me, not quite grateful for what I have.  I'm trying to avoid that too, without numbing myself.  Perhaps what I'm really saying is something I've talked about before, about ringing everything out of every experience and being aware of what experiences are available - not letting them roll on by without a glance.

*Yes, British.  I think this certainly still happens in Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales, too.  The Irish Republic is different.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Melon Seed Horchata

I have been tidying my house today.  It's been a bit of a mammoth undertaking.  The bathrooms still need scrubbing and the kitchen floor needs doing and there's laundry all over the living room, but it's better than it was.  I don't feel like I'm living in such a pit.  Of course, there are still some exploding sacks of clothes belonging to a brother and his girlfriend stuffed into a corner and more bedding than can be shaken at with a stick on one of the beds, but it's tidier.  I even re-filed my cookery books and sorted out the wheat of elderly bank statements from the chaff of envelopes.  I haven't hoovered; I HAVE made horchata.  Not the rice based cinnamon flavoured stuff I had in San Francisco, which was delicious, but something identifiably from the same family.  I bought a melon yesterday.  I'm currently very very poor, due to a small amount of miscalculation and the impulse purchase of a corset, so any fruit I buy has to be vetted carefully and on offer before I shell out, and the eating of it has to be planned such that I eat it when it's perfect not wasting anything.

I've been wanting to play some more with my new cookery book ever since I got back; something about the amazing weather in south east England at the moment.   And I had a melon.  At the back of the book is a very simple recipe for melon seed horchata, that neatly takes in my need for a cool drink, my adoration of melons and my reluctance to waste the smallest part of a beautifully ripe piece of fruit.  All you do is lift out the seeds and pulp from the middle as you would ordinarily, but for each cup of fruit add an equal volume of water, 1½ tablespoons of sugar and 1½ teaspoons of lime juice.  You then blend the mixture until it's as fine as can reasonably achieved in a home machine and leave the lot to muddle in the fridge for half an hour.  Then you strain it (ideally through muslin), add ice and enjoy.  If you really wanted to, I suspect it would be fantastic with a shot of tequila.  It has a great texture, a little like coconut milk in its smoothness but with a wonderful aroma of melon.

One or two things: my one ordinary sized galia melon made 1 cup of horchata, which isn't much.  Use more melons, or possibly freeze the pulp until you have enough for a sensible amount.  It also had a slightly bitter aftertaste.  I'm debating what is likely to have caused this and have several thoughts, the most likely being that it sat longer than half an hour in the fridge and various tannin-type things might have leached out of the seeds.  I also didn't use the melon variety specified by the recipe, which was cantaloupe.  The stripy orange fleshed melons, iconic to me of holidays in France when I was a child, are by far my favourite variety (though I love all of them), but it's very hard to get decent ones in England.  I bought one in San Francisco, seduced by the unbelievable scent as I walked past them.  The ones in Tescos yesterday smelled of cardboard.  Even carried carefully home and placed gently on the windowsill for a few days, they would never emit that amazing Mediterranean perfume.  So.  I didn't buy one.  I bought the only galia I could find that smelled of flowers, and left it in the sun all day.  It is a pretty good piece of fruit.  I am not sure whether the seeds are likely to be much different between the two varieties, but it's certainly possible that one will produce a slightly less bitter drink than the other.  I shall be hoarding melon seeds for as long as they're on offer, and trying out different varieties - everything with the pale yellow, thin skinned seeds has got to be worth a go, but I think that it's probably not worth bothering with watermelon.  Better to puree the flesh in that case and drink that (definitely with lime and tequila, in that case...).

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Best of British, on July the 5th.

We don't have a day for Britishness in this country.  St George's Day doesn't exactly count - the saint is patron of at least a dozen countries and has no actual connection to the place itself.  He is a guy that we liked originally because he appeared a couple of times as a sort of omen of good fortune in various battles of the medieval period.  It's not a holiday. There are no speeches.  A few people wave a few flags with more gusto than normal and primary school children listen to an exciting fairy tale about a man who stopped young women being sacrificed to a dragon.  It's more 'patriotic' to remember the day as Shakespeare's birthday.  At least he was British.  Anyway, he's only the patron of England; as a nation, we're divided even on that.

I feel most patriotic I suppose on Remembrance Day - Armistice Day, the Day of Peace In Flanders Fields.  Is it still about the war, where we did stand hopelessly against what seemed impossible odds and triumphed at the last minute to limp from the ashes?  Are my impressions out of date?  Perhaps.  The modern Brit abroad is arrogant and drunk, and I am ashamed of that.  Do we still stand for Right, like we tried to do in the 40s?  Not that it was or is ever that clear cut.  We laugh at our spectacular losses in sport - we're almost proud of them.  They represent that wartime Britishness, in a way.  Something about not succeeding but doggedly trying anyway.  Other countries celebrate winners, but we celebrate the 'glorious' defeats, the underdogs, the never-had-a-chance-but-at-least-they-trieds.  We call it stoicism and resignation and determination and maybe it is, but it allows us to be defeatist and pessimistic and dour yet full of injured innocence.  Expecting the worst allows occasional moments of glory to be that much more exciting for being unexpected, I suppose.  The British character is a figure of Romance - often self-deprecating to the point of false modesty.  Strange how close humility and pride are.

I was surprised to find myself proud of my country, in an emotional way rather than a logical one it's true, but still.  Maybe I could use the loaded 'love', which suggests a blind admiration for the place which overlooks or diminishes the faults, rather than the word 'proud', which to me anyway suggests the application of judgment.  I assumed I wasn't.  I'm as prepared as the next person, British or foreign, to poke fun at the place and its silly traditions and attitudes myself, but I seem to object to other people doing the same sometimes.  And I look at that feeling and I am faintly ashamed of it.  We are a small place with a big ego.  Ego is unattractive, though I would perhaps rather have an honest ego than a false modesty.  In some places we have influence.  We ought to be a wise country given our age and our history and I wonder whether we are.  I would like for the things we've had happen to us and the things we've made happen and their consequences have educated us a little.  I'd like for them to have educated the rest of the world too - we are the best example* since the Romans of what happens in a large empire.  I'm pretty sure it hasn't.  Depressing to realise.  The way that no westerner is able to win an Afghan war yet people keep trying is my favourite example of an inability to take note of the past.

Celebrating Britain is a bit naff.  We're embarrassed about it. Maybe we should be embarrassed.  But maybe if we were proud we would endeavour to keep the place as something of which to be proud.  Do we do that?  Maybe, sometimes.  I want to be proud of a country that went from arrogant racism to full acceptance and integration of other races and cultures.  Proud of somewhere that learns from its mistakes, laughs at itself, values itself and works always to care for the innocent whoever they are.

*That's 'best example', not 'best' example; there is a lot wrong with our colonial past, I just mean that we have had the farshest reaching empire in the world in recent centuries, and hence when examining the subject of empire the first place to look is the state of Britain, c. 1850.