Tag Archives: milk

Homemade Mozzarella

Not my worst disaster, not my finest hour…

Homemade Mozzarella with heritage tomatoes, edible flowers and Parma ham

After four years of selling cheese, frankly it felt like high time I tried my hand at making some. I had been warned, by no less an authority than writer, columnist, restaurateur, TV chef, fish fight champion, and all round food hero Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that “making mozzarella is more difficult than today’s other cheeses”. Pah! What does he know? I’ve read the recipe, and I once saw a short video of skilled Campania artisans with decades of know how making the stuff. So what that I’ve never made so much as a simple strained curd before – how hard can it be…?

The vegetarian rennet had been sitting in the cupboard for a while, glaring at me with the resentment born of neglect every time I reached for the sea salt, and the award-winning Laverstoke Park have just opened a butchers in Twickenham which means ready access to buffalo milk. The only thing missing was citric acid, which my dad always had hanging around at home for his wine making, so I guessed it couldn’t be that hard to come by. 

What I’d missed in the follow-up correspondence from Hugh’s article, until the Anthropologist pointed it out to me, was that most household name chemists now refuse to stock the stuff because it’s used by dealers to ‘cut’ cocaine. And so it proved in my local Boots who “haven’t had that here for some time”, but who recommended, in hushed tones, and with much furtive sideways glancing, that I might try the small independent chemist round the corner. 

WFTTD: “But I only want it for making cheese.”
Chemist: “Yes sir, I’m sure you do.”

Bloody hell! I felt like a criminal already, and by the time I got to the little local shop I was in a cold sweat. I’d stayed outside to finish my fag – had they been watching me from behind the counter and wondering why I was loitering? Was I plucking up the courage for my clandestine purchase? I blurted out my request [why was my voice so high-pitched?] and then came “Certainly sir, how many packets would you like?” 

Yikes! Was this a cunning test? Could I ask for two, ‘one for a friend’? Or would that be classed as intent to supply?! I left with just the one, the suspicion that my name was already being placed on some sort of register, and nagging doubts about what my dad had been up to all those nights in the kitchen with his demijohns. If you have trouble tracking any down it might be easier just to ask your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer. 

Back in my crack den – sorry, kitchen – I got out another toy I’ve been dying to play with, my electronic food thermometer probe thingy, which would have been used for long slow roasts by now if my oven could be relied on to maintain an even low temperature [It can’t]. Happily the device is just as handy for measuring the precise milk and whey temperatures needed for this task, which by now was starting to feel more like a chemistry experiment than the production of food. And I was rubbish at chemistry at school. I’m rubbish at seeing blindingly obvious omens too. 

Mozzarella is a pasta filata or stretched-curd cheese. In other words the curd junket is heated in hot water or whey until elastic and pliable, and then stretched and folded. This creates long filaments of protein which when melted give the stringy cheese effect so beloved of pizza advertisers everywhere. But to achieve this you need a smooth, coagulated curd junket which I can now tell you won’t get if you don’t pay close attention to the instructions supplied with your rennet.

Hugh’s recipe stipulated a quarter teaspoon of rennet, and looking back it seems obvious that he was talking about powdered animal rennet. My liquid vegetable version says ten drops per pint of milk, but of course I hadn’t read that and ended up with about that amount in roughly four and a half pints. So the curds I needed to heat were not smooth but crumbly, and what should have been a gentle stretching and folding process was more akin to ‘pulling roughly apart and squashing hopefully back together’. 

Some white-ish, fairly bland balls of vaguely mozzarella like material were the result. But was it a complete disaster? My guests, who included the Shopkeeper’s Sister and her Spouse, made appreciative noises about the effort which had been gone to [though I made sure to serve some shop bought stuff on the side], and no one got sick or died, which is generally regarded as a plus when cooking. And it was a first attempt, and therefore a learning experience. 

My top learning tips for next time: 

  • Take recipe, or copy thereof, to shop to avoid repeated trips for more milk.
  • Find source of citric acid which doesn’t suggest criminal intent, or result in arrest.
  • READ INSTRUCTIONS on rennet!
  • Use more salt in the whey poaching bath.
  • Sprinkle with further salt once the cheese is cut. 

I’ll let you know how the next attempt turns out. In the meantime if you want to try this or one of Hugh’s other homemade cheese recipes you can find them here.

Pina Colada Ice-Cream

Pina Colada Ice-Cream

I recently ordered a Pina Colada in a chi-chi Kensington cafe at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon – I was in the mood for one, it happens! – only to be told, a tad too frostily I thought, that cocktails weren’t served before 6:00. We were celebrating for heaven’s sake, and the waitress seemed to be implying that I was some sort of lush. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the first time that such an accusation’s been lobbed in my general direction, but normally by people with whom my acquaintance extends to more than just the passing of a menu. A menu which, I hasten to add, mentioned nothing about this cocktail curfew. 

Now it’s not every day that I crave a Pina Colada, and it happens more often round a Caribbean pool than in the grey of a London summer, but once decided the disappointment of a thwarted craving rankles. And it was rankling still when my friend Richard started pressing me for coconut recipes, which is where the plot thickens.

Richard and some other dedicated souls are embarking on The Three Peaks Challenge to raise money and awareness for the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust after his friend and colleague Francesco Anstey tragically and unexpectedly died of brain tumour earlier this year, aged just 23. Coconuts, somehow, have become an emblem for the team’s efforts – there’s even talk of having a coconut shy at the top of each mountain – and hence Richard’s request for coconut based help. Which I’m more than happy to give if pottering around in the kitchen gets me out of yomping up a mountain or three. 

So I’m having my Pina Colada, as an ice-cream, in a glass. And Francesco, I’m raising that glass to you. 

You can find out more about the challenge on facebook or by following @fa3pc on twitter. And if you enjoy this recipe please consider making a donation of whatever size through the just giving page here. 

Makes one litre – ish 

  • 120ml double cream
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 240ml milk
  • 140ml coconut flavoured rum [I used Malibu]
  • 100g caster sugar
  • The juice and zest of half a lime
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 75ml pineapple juice
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 10 maraschino cocktail cherries
  • 2 tinned pineapple rings

Whisk the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl. Combine the cream, milk, coconut milk, pineapple and lime juices, sugar and vanilla paste in a pan and heat to simmering point whilst stirring. Add a ladleful of the hot liquid to the eggs, whisking all the while. Add the egg mixture back into the pan and cook on a gentle heat with constant stirring for five minutes, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, cool, and then refrigerate until completely chilled. 

Whilst the mixture chills chop the cherries into small pieces, and pineapple rings almost to a pulp. What happens next will depend on the instructions for your ice-cream maker, but you’ll need to set the mixture churning and then five minutes before the end of the churning / chilling time add the cherries, pineapple and grated lime zest. Transfer to a sealable container and freeze overnight.

Any remaining pineapple and cherries can be used to garnish the ice-cream, cocktail style. Paper parasols optional.

 Eat within one month, if you can wait that long.


Birthday Bouquet

A bunch of wild garlic in a glass

When you live in or around London there seems to be no bigger a challenge than getting from one side of it to the other. You pick your compass point [I’ve done them all over the years] and can normally manage to make it from there to the centre and back, but god forbid you should be forced to make the tortuous schlep across town. We’ve got friends in Switzerland we see more often than those round the South Circular.

So I was surprised and delighted when the lovely Lucie and Lucas trekked all the way from Camberwell for my recent birthday drinks in St Margarets! I daren’t even check the details on the Transport for London Journey Planner for fear that the sheer number of connections and modes of transport will crash the site permanently. But arrive they did, both beaming broadly and bearing a fragrant birthday bouquet – of wild garlic! Lucas had been in Somerset that morning [the boy clearly likes to get about] and had been so excited to see such an early crop that he must have denuded an entire forest floor.

Wild garlic is excellent forager’s food being easy to identify, difficult to confuse with anything dangerous, and abundant. And in this age of austerity free foraged food can only be a good thing. When walking in the woods keep a nostril open for the perfume of garlic, then look for the spear shaped leaves, similar to lily of the valley. Just don’t forget to give it a wash when you get home – you know what bears [and other more common quadrupeds] do in woods.

Then use it, well, just about everywhere and anywhere. This week so far it’s been popping up in soups, salads, sauces, and mashed potato [let it infuse in warm milk or cream], and there’s a pesto still to come. But I think my favourite was a simple omelette, topped with chopped wild garlic while the egg still ran, some Somerset cheddar [in case it was feeling homesick], a good grind of black pepper and finished under the grill. Eggs, cheese and sweet, sweet garlic – I don’t know what it’s like for you reading that list but I can’t write it without salivating.

So much tastier than a bunch of tulips.

Brioche and Butter Pudding with Marmalade and Whiskied Raisins

Brioche and Butter Pudding with Marmalade

February means it’s time to toast the short Seville orange season again and even if you haven’t been making your own marmalade chances are that somebody you know has. Whether you have a glut or not, don’t make it the exclusive preserve of the breakfast table. The bitterness of the bigarade [as the French call Seville oranges] brings an added dimension to otherwise sweet dishes.

A partially shared Scottish heritage might explain the long affinity of marmalade and whisky– it’s not uncommon to find marmalade with whisky in it, but you can also turn the combination on its head and add a dollop of marmalade to a whisky cocktail. So if you have some whisky marmalade lurking in the cupboard this is the place to use it. I used brioche this time but the beauty of bread and butter pudding is that you can use any old bread, one or two days old being best.

This quantity fed two, twice.

  • 75g raisins, soaked for at least 24 hours in…
  • 100ml scotch whisky
  • 6 small brioche rolls, sliced diagonally in half and generously buttered
  • Enough marmalade to smear over the buttered brioche
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml milk
  • 100ml double cream
  • A grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp unrefined caster sugar, or vanilla sugar*

Arrange your buttered and marmalade covered pieces of brioche in a round dish, tucking them in to overlap slightly, to resemble the petals of a flower. Take the end of another roll, butter it and squeeze into the middle to complete your ‘pudding daisy’. Alternatively cut sliced bread into triangles and arrange in overlapping layers.

Drain the raisins, reserving the liquor, and scatter them around the dish. Mix the eggs, milk and cream and add the reserved whisky. Pour half this mixture over the bread base and allow to soak in for a few minutes before adding the rest. If there seem to be too many raisins on the top poke some into the gaps between the bread. Allow to soak for another half hour or so before cooking.

Heat the oven to 180˚C, place your pudding bowl into a roasting tray and fill with hot water to half way up the side of the pudding container. Sprinkle the surface of the pud’ with sugar and grated nutmeg and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

* Making vanilla sugar couldn’t be easier. Place a split vanilla pod in a jar, fill with sugar, and shake from time to time. As you use it you can continue to top up with more sugar, the vanilla pod will go on imparting its fragrance for months.

Mashed Memories

Golden mashed potato with Appleby's Cheshire cheese and spring onions

When I was a child mashed potatoes were made by robots from Mars and required no more complex preparation than the addition of some boiling water and a quick stir. Now, barely forty years later, we are once again reduced to grubbing up the raw tubers from the earth, washing them, peeling them, dicing, boiling and mashing them.

Clearly not as straight forward as it looks this progress business.

Back in my youth, if we’d been really good we might be allowed the cheese and onion version, though as it cost the same as the plain stuff I was never quite sure how it earned its ‘special treat’ status. My attempts to recreate this childhood comfort food par excellence though always lacked a certain something. The original had a slight tang which I could never quite reproduce, and then came my Eureka moment – yoghurt! Believe me, this will transport you straight back to the land of space hoppers and spangles.

This quantity could feasibly feed four as a side dish, unless they are as greedy as I am with mashed potatoes

  • 800g potatoes
  • 200ml milk
  • 50g butter
  • 3 spring onions [white and green parts] diced into half centimetre slices
  • 130g Appleby’s Cheshire cheese, grated
  • 1.5 heaped tbsps natural yoghurt

Peel the potatoes [with your metal knives, as the Martians used to say], dice into even sized pieces and boil in salted water until tender. As the potatoes cook gently warm the milk, butter and spring onions in another pan. You don’t want this to boil, the heat is just to help the onion flavour infuse into the milk, so once it starts to tremble just turn it off and leave until needed. These days I always use a potato ricer for mash, a device which in the 70’s kitchen would have seemed more alien than one of those robots, but a potato masher will do the job. Add the infused milk and butter mixture, onions and all, and whisk with a fork to combine. Add the grated cheese and yoghurt and continue to whisk over a low heat until the cheese has disappeared. Check seasoning and serve with whatever you like – last night it was braised lamb shanks and peas, but go for fish fingers and spaghetti hoops if the fancy takes you.