Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cheese rolls 2.

A brief cheese rolls update.

I made these yesterday for my weekly catch up with an awesome bunch of mums and children.  The children ran off to play and the mums set upon the cheese rolls.  My daughter managed to grab the last one (because the chocolate biscuits were all finished, and by taking the last one she was somehow the winner).  These are clearly great food ideas for children's morning/ afternoon teas. 

Giffy suggested eating these with soup, so I tested that out.  Cheese rolls are quite possibly the best accompaniment to soup ever.  The baby and I had a quiet day in on Monday so a bit of kumara (sweet potato), pumpkin, celery, carrot and onion were chucked in a pot with some duck stock and then some orzo.  I added some shreds of bacon from bacon bones to mine.  Just delicious - and with cheese rolls a very magical lunch on a rather bleugh kind of day.

I'm tempted to try the cheese and pineapple exotic variant.  I love cheese and pineapple.  The best cheese and pineapple sandwiches that I ever had were made each day on fresh white bread for the Dunedin Hospital cafeteria.  I don't know if they still make them, but they beat cheese and (raw) onion sandwiches every day.  I wonder if the same applies to cheese rolls?

Monday, June 27, 2011

What a weekend!

I put my foot down and booked out the weekend.  For the first time in a very long time we didn't have any meetings or work committments.  It was time for family fun time.  As a bonus, my husband took Friday morning off work as well.

I've been reflecting for awhile that it has been pretty hardgoing with two children.  I knew it would be difficult before my daughter was born, but I think it wasn't until she was about nine months old that I started enjoying things.  The constant lack of sleep hasn't helped (I have just succeeded in dropping the dream feed) and I'm pretty sure my mood was teetering on the low side from the contraceptive pill so I stopped using it.  At the same time my daughter got over her pram aversion so we have both been enjoying a nice walk on fine days between the morning and afternoon sleep.  All of a sudden my humour is back and I can just relax and enjoy watching the girls grow!

I've also been thinking that I have been busy doing the same old things and it was time to find some new things to do in Wellington.  I happened across Wgtn to do site which gave me a few new ideas.  So last Friday we headed for Aotea Lagoon, just past Porirua.  It was a very cool place to visit. There is a pretty cool playground, with a separate toddler section, giant fort and climbing tower.  While the baby slept, my husband and daughter went nuts on the slides and ropes!  We had a walk around the track: "Look a water-volcano (fountain)" "A moving X (windmill)."  Cool stuff.  Conveniently I had forgotten to put a loaf of bread in the fridge (a necessity now that our heat pump means we have a warm house) so we had a decent amount of mouldy bread to throw to the ducks and swans.  We picnicked in the rose garden, played on the equipment at the exercise stations and counted the marine life (two live and one dead crab).  A fantastic place to spend a couple of hours on a sunny day.  We then had a finger-biting dash back to town trying to keep both girls awake in the back seat as we had our standing gym class date.  We were both late for our respective obligations, but given how fun the morning was we weren't too fussed about it.

On Saturday we decided to go back out to Porirua annd have a look around.  I realised that I hadn't been to Porirua mall with the baby so it has been a very long time since we have been there.  Taking her to the mall sounds like a minor thing, but I can still remember going there while being dreadfully sick just before we lost Joanna, and in some small way it is nice to go back as a family of four.  We had a big run around outside the mall, then came in for lunch.  A small amount of shopping followed - we had both forgotten how cheap K-Mart can be for 'creche clothes' and my daughter had a great time going round saying "Hey, this is size five, I could wear it."  The evening wound up with a friend's mid-winter celebration so Vincent and I then frantically prepared our contribution to take.  WE WERE EVEN ON TIME, which I think qualifies us for some kind of national award!   I got to take along a couple of my homemade cheeses - it was cool to finally open a not-overripe camembert and share it with friends.  I also made a feta and caramelised onion tart - yum.

Here in Wellington this weekend there was a special promotion for Wellington attractions - you could go to most of the big attractions for a gold coin donation.  Apparently the reasoning is that it is a good opportunity to get in now before the tourists invade for the Rugby World Cup.  We have never been to Staglands so decided to check that out.  It was about an hour long car trip inland from Upper Hutt and while the baby slept the four year old decided to moan.  "I want my Wellington"  "I'm bored" "I don't like these trees."  It was quite an impressive display of moaning.  It was raining pretty heavily as we arrived, so the bored girl decided to start her bored crying.  She cried all the way to the cafe, where a hot chocolate and some food perked her up quite quickly.  She took a look at the map, saw the potential and from then on was quite excited.

It is a lovely reserve, not that large that small feet will wear out, and you can even take a large pram (but not a stroller - it would die) around.  We had an amazing time feeding the animals, seeing birds and just getting muddy having a nice walk around the track.  They are so family friendly - there are good food options, pram friendly, clean-well maintained high chairs, sell disposible rain ponchos, have heaps of picnic spots, free use of BBQs and encourage you to bring your own food if you want.  You can take your togs and swim in the river in summer as well.  So cool.  It really reminded me of growing up in New Plymouth - river swimming and muddy walks through forests.  Nice.  One of the coolest parts of being a parent is replicating the best parts of your childhood with your own children.

Neither of us had been in Upper Hutt before so we checked it out on the way back to town.  The four year old conceeded that it had been a good day, and entertained herself by reading her book to the car.  Her pronounciation of 'badger' is the cutest thing ever.

We were pretty knackered after all that, and after a weekend of ignoring the housework we spent a fair amount of time getting the house back in order for the week ahead!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Homemade tofu

I've been making a lot of cheese lately and wondered about making tofu.  I found out with a quick google search that making tofu is similiar to cheese making.  Tofu is traditionally made by soaking soybeans for a day or so, rinsing them, then blending them up in the food processor.  Water is added and the whole mix is boiled for ages, strained through a muslin and you then have soy milk.  I bought a litre of fresh unsweetened soy milk from the supermarket.  If you do it my way then this is really quick!

Tofu is my eldest daughter's favourite food.  We often buy fresh tofu from the market at the weekend, but just as often seem to have shelf stable versions in the cupboard waiting for one of those nights when you haven't prepared anything in advance.  With tofu, alphabet pasta, very finely chopped green veges and some frozen stock I can actually prepare a dinner in ten minutes that is fairly healthy.  

With both of my daughters a favourite puree of mine was tofu blitzed with tinned apricots (an Alison Holst recipe). Protein and fruit in one serving!

I looked up a number of sites then kind of synthesised the information into the following recipe. If you don't have any calcium chloride then try Anthony Bourdain's recipe that involves eggs, soy milk and salt.  If you don't have any cheese moulds (or indeed proper tofu moulds/ presses) then a sieve and fine cheesecloth would be fine.

Emma's homemade tofu.

One litre fresh unsweetened soy milk
3ml calcium chloride (this came with my Italian cheese making kit from Mad Millies).  Because this doesn't change the taste of the tofu, you could probably add a touch more if you wanted very, very firm tofu)

Heat the soy milk in a saucepan to 70 degrees.  It will start catching around 50 degrees so make sure you keep stirring it.  Once it reaches 70 degrees remove from the element and add the calcium chloride.  Cover the pot and leave to sit for at least an hour.  There should be a lot of curds when you stir the milk mixture.  It will not have a 'clean break' that those involved in cheese making will be familiar with.  Line a cheese mould with a couple of layers of cheese cloth and pour in the mixture.  A lot of liquid will drain out - it will be a creamy/ yellow whey colour.  A small amount may have tiny white curd dots.  Don't worry about it. 

How you press your tofu will depend on how hard or soft it is.  I want tofu firm enough to chop up into chunks.  It wasn't firm enough to do this with just leaving it to drain overnight so in the morning I transferred it to the cheese mould that came with a pressing lid.  I then put a bottle of Sprite on the top and more liquid came out. Or if you like softer tofu, just leave to drain overnight.

Store in fridge once firm.  You should be able to store it in water for a few days.

Charcuterie. A new food experiment.

I subscribe to this awesome blog, Lovely Wee Days which is run by three women detailing lovely recipes, their favourite things and general food adventures.  Some of my more recent fav recipes come from this site.  In their latest food adventure, Becs, one of the contributors goes on the 'Pig in a day' course.  This course is held outside of Christchurch and involves learning about changing a pig into all kinds of charcuterie (my word du jour).  They have a go at making salami and sausages, taste home made prosciutto (takes a year to make so not going to happen in a day long course) and have a delicious lunch using the host's products.

The Mad Millie people are bringing out home sausage making kits at the end of the year, and I'm really looking forward to those.  But for now, I'm going to make pancetta and bacon using the kits on their website.  I figure with homemade pancetta, along with homemade cheese and pasta, a very special meal is coming up.  Will detail the findings of my experiment!

My husband has Friday morning off work.  I'm hoping the preserving cure arrives by then - how cool to learn how to make bacon and pancetta together!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cheese rolls

It is time.

The weather is miserable, the baby is on to finger food and it is time for some nice warm lunch food.

It can only be cheese roll time.  If you are from the South Island you will know what I mean.  If not, then the cheese roll is a delicacy awaiting your attention.  Most South Island tea rooms will serve a version of the cheese rolls, and hardly a month goes by in winter when a school promotes them as a fundraising opportunity.

Cheese rolls are usually some kind of mix of cheese and packaged onion soup.  A basic recipe is:

Cheese rolls

One tin evaporated milk
Heaps of Cheddar cheese (At least two cups of grated - you want strongly flavoured cheese)
A tsp mustard
A packet of onion soup
(optional) Tablespoon of finely diced onion.

You boil up the mixture until it is very thick and then spread on fresh bread, roll and then toast in the oven to serve.  Turn once.  You want the outside all yummy and crisp, and inside soft with delicious superheated cheese.

The absolute brilliance with this recipe is that they just freeze so very well.  Last winter when I was pregnant I made up a big batch, rolled them and then froze them in snaplock bags in batches of four or five. I would grill them for lunch, and do a couple extra for the four year old's dinner.  I found it easiest to have a large oven tray to rest the cheese rolls on (join side down) while prepping them.  I would also just put a chopping board on top of them to help them stay rolled up.

These are classically made on white bread, I have always preferred them on grainy bread - I also find grainy bread easier to roll. You can roll over the bread with a glass or rolling pin before spreading with the cheese mixture to assist with rolling up.

It is mandatory for the crusts to stay on.  If you can't handle that, then don't make them.  Last year when I was looking up recipes for cheese rolls I learnt that they are one of only a few NZ foods that are specific to one island of the country.

Camembert and further cheese ambitions

The cheese making continues, it has become quite a wee hobby here.  My first Camembert was ready last week, very ripe thanks to the warm temperatures, and I had to consult with the lovely folks at Mad Millie as to whether or not it was safe to eat!
It was fine!! Just very, very ripe.  I'm so pleased with how it looks!

I've got another lot on the go at the moment.  With winter temperatures here around 10-14 degrees outside it is very convenient to mature the cheese outside.  I'm sure visitors to our house think that I am crazy as if you come to the back door at the moment there is a Mad Millie box with two ripening camembert inside!

Camembert is very satisfying to make.  You get to use a lot of cheese making equipment, get to 'cut the curd' and then scoop them into moulds.  I love it how the curds are really firm, and seem to initially resist coming together in the mould - then start to release moisture.  When you fill the moulds the curds go right to the top of the mould - but overnight squash down to an inch or so.

The next step is hard cheese.  I brought the hard cheese kit and once I can sort out a cheese press I plan to make my own cheddar.  It looks like I'll need to make it over a weekend as there are quite a lot of steps, but none of them taking too much time.  I'm particularly looking forward to the step where you get to dip the cheese in wax.

The four year old and I made mozzarella again yesterday so we are having homemade pizza tonight for dinner. She particularly enjoyed being responsible for the thermometer and checking the temperature.  I have been waging a huge campaign to move her on from plain cheese pizza.  She will now have cheese and mushroom, and I hope to add a little onion and perhaps sausage to her repertoire!  Unfortunately the most satisfying part of making the mozzarella - shaping into balls at the end, is not suitable for children due to the high temperature of water used.  I find it uncomfortable even wearing gloves.

Finally, a little internet research has indicated that you can make your own tofu using soy milk and equipment/ processes similiar to cheese making.  It is on my ever-growing project list.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Cottage Home: Ruffle Bonnet Tutorial

The Cottage Home: Ruffle Bonnet Tutorial

I just saw this bonnet tutorial (got lost looking for something else). I also learnt what a bodkin was at the same time! Sweet.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Making things out of pillowcases

Well my workshop at Handmade last weekend has sent me into new pillowcase enthusiasm.  Pillowcases are getting recycled left, right and centre around here!  I've been getting a lot of positive comments about the bag I made during the workshop, and next time I go to Spotlight I'll get some strapping to make a dainty version.  Having a washable bag is very handy when you have a baby.  I plonked the baby and the bag down next to the couch the other day and before I knew it the bag was filled with baby cracker crumbs as a keen little hunter rifled through the bag.

I decided to make another pillowcase top for my ten month old, and with some unpicking, and the very generous hem on the pillowcase, was able to make pants as well.
My ten month old is a lot more willing a model than my four year old.

I'm going to make some tablemats with some pillowcases I have - not following any kind of pattern, just going to chop them in half and put some padding in the middle.   I think I'll make some more pants, and a couple of skirts for my oldest daughter as well.

But right now I am off to come up with an idea for dinner.  I made the most of a Christmas present from my husband and used a voucher at a day spa today.  Had a lovely lunch with friends, then a wee nap.  My daughters are napping so I have a brief window in which to create dinner....probably tofu and vege soup here....quickest thing I can think of in a hurry.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Handmade 2011

This weekend I attended a workshop at Handmade 2011, a craft conference/ workshop/ masterclass series held at Te Papa.  I enrolled in 'Take One Pillowcase' a class taught by Heleen Webb Blog link .  The purpose was 'upcycling,'  in this case converting old/ vintage pillowcases into new things.  The aim was to complete a bag and to start a child's dress/ top by the end of the class. 

It was very cool going to Te Papa and seeing heaps of women walking around with big bags full of crafting materials.  My workshop was held in one of the usual Te Papa conference rooms - converted to a mini sewing workshop with wide tables and six brand new Brother sewing machines.  I was a bit flustered as I'd been running late all morning (a work scheduling muck up with Vincent, magically partially fixed by him at midnight the night before) and I had thirty minutes to get from my house to Te Papa, park, pick up tickets and find my room.  I made it with two minutes to spare and set to work threading the machine.

The other particpants were either sewers from times past (hadn't sewed in about twenty years) or very new to sewing and not familiar with brand new machines.  It took us all about fifteen minutes to thread our machines and get thread onto the bobbins.  This may partially explain why we ran out of time towards the end of the class!  The machines were lovely to work on though, and if we didn't have a perfectly good sewing machine at home then I would be very tempted by this one.

Heleen introduced herself and took us through the project.  The small class size meant that we could work at our own pace, getting help when we needed it.  The bag project is relatively simple, but quite elegant in execution.  I had a lot of fun, and enjoyed the conversation while we sewed.  I learnt how to properly put on bias binding (although in the interest of time didn't apply the technique) and create boxing.  We ran out of time to start the dress, but left with detailed project sheets on the bag and dress, as well as a further sheet with an apron project and link to a couple of other pillowcase conversion ideas.

Why do mums become crafty?

I was reflecting yesterday about the number of women who take up home based craft/ hobbies once they have children.  Is it economics?  I'm not really sure about this as my crafting hobbies tend to end up being quite pricey.  The amount of money that I can easily spend on a nice fabric starts adding up.  My husband tried to work out the cost of his latest project (a very gorgeous and well made merino T-Shirt) and, charged at his usual hourly rate, probably cost around $600 (excluding materials - add another $50) to make!!  Is it a return to domestically mindedness - I don't think so.  I kind of have enough to do around the house.

Recently I've been wondering if it is a combination of being stuck in the home (my nine month old's sleeping habits mean that I really need to be home for most of the morning and an hour or so in the afternoon, as well as from about 6.30) and a desire to put your own stamp on parenthood (this only applies for those who started crafting after they had children).

I took up knitting when my first daughter was a year old.  I taught myself using books and magazines and have gotten a lot of pleasure out of making baby blankets and hats.  Sometime after my second daughter was born I decided to just re-learn how to sew, figuring two years of Home Economics would mean that some latent sewing ability remained deep down.  I started with a simple Cath Kidman padded tablemat pattern, then made a matching (rather wonky) tablecloth.  From there it quickly progressed to simple baby clothes, some gorgeous peasant dresses and this weekend I've made a bag and dress from pillowcases.  Somewhere along the way I also started cheesemaking (again, not at all economical because we just consume more cheese now) and recently picked up a magazine with the intention of mastering basic crochet.

Now I find myself with about a dozen crafty blogs in my blog reader, and attended Handmade at Te Papa this weekend - a kind of crafting masterclass/ conference/ workshop that was just brilliant.  I've come a long way craft wise in a short amount of time.

I do get a lot of satisfaction from the completed project, but am now beginning to get satisfaction from the process involved in the craft - this is a big change for me, as I was very destination-oriented when I started crafting - now I enjoy the pleasure in the details of the craft.

I'm curious as to how other people came to crafting, and what they get from it.

Ricotta and Honey Cheesecake/ Gwyenth's duck fat potatoes

I had a bit of Royal Wedding fever last month and purchased the commemorative Australian Women's Weekly edition.  I forgot how much I really like this magazine - it always feels as though you have had a great read at the end of it, and it is full of words, instead of pictures like most 'women's magazines.'  This edition also made me eat a bit of humble pie as I thought that Gwyneth Paltrow and her blog 'Gloop' were full of nutty rich people food and travel ideas (they mostly are) but some of the recipes from her new cookbook were published.  I was taken with the delicious picture of 'Crispy Potato and Garlic Cake' and, using rendered duck fat from previous cooking experiments made the most delicious potato dish I've ever had.  Super yum Yummy potato dish.

In the same edition there is also a really delicious cheesecake recipe that I have been meaning to make.  Yesterday I made cream cheese, and I'll be making some ricotta again later so I have everything I need.

Ricotta and Honey Cheesecake - by Pete Evans, Australian Women's Weekly, May 2011

150g plain biscuits
1/4 cup caster sugar
90g unsalted butter, melted
250g cream cheese, softened  (have a go at making it with a Mad Millie kit)!!
2.5 cups (600g) ricotta cheese
1 cup caster sugar
1 TBSP cornflour
4 eggs
2 tsps grated lemon or orange rind
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBSP honey
1/3 cup (45g) unsalted sheeled pistachios

1.  Preheat oven to 180C.  Greast a 22cm springform pan; wrap the  outside of the pan with two layers of foil.
2. Finely crush biscuits.  Combine the crumbs, sugar and butter in a medium bowl.  Press crumbs evenly over the base of the pan and refrigerate.
3. Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth.  Add ricotta and sugar, beat for about 2 minutes or until smooth.  Beat in cornflour.   Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined between additions. Beat in rind and vanilla.  Pour filling into pan.
4. Place springform pan in a large baking dish.  Pour enough boiling water into the baking dish to come halfway up the side of the pan.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce the temperature to 140C and Bake for a further 30 minutes until almost set.  The centre of the cheesecake should move slightly when the pan is shaken gently.
5. Remove the pan from the water; cool on a wire rack.  Cover; refrigerate for about six hours or until cold.
6. Serve drizzled with honey and sprinkled with pistachios.