Friday, 25 February 2011

To whoever stole my bike this evening

I hope you need it more than me.

Which is highly unlikely, actually, since you are a thieving little scrotum who will probably either a) ride it about for a bit performing shitty little wheelies to impress your pram-pushing girlfriends and their velour-wearing friends before dumping it to rust in a hedge where it's no good to anyone or b) sell it on for barely any money as it was only worth £300 new a year ago.

I, however, needed that bike to get to work and back, a concept that is probably as alien to your workshy little brain as nuclear physics or clothing without writing on it. I've just spent a fortune on car insurance, the equivalent of the national debt of Bolivia on healing my sick cat, and am supposed to be saving for a wedding so another £300 on a new bike to get to work in order to earn money to pay for it is really not what I need right now. So thanks for that. I also don't give a monkey's toss if any of the above sounds terribly middle class, I'd rather be middle class than a scum-sucking invertebrate like you.

Yours, hoping you get run over by a bus, but not while riding my bike because it doesn't deserve that,


PS The first gear ratio doesn't work. I hope you find that out at the bottom of a really big fucking hill.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Messy are the Cheesemakers

Someone else's halloumi. Not my halloumi, as I ate it all before remembering to take a photo.

This week I made my first foray into the mysterious world of cheesemaking. I always assumed this was very complex and involved huge amounts of equipment, white coats, stainless steel vats, and temperature monitoring to rival NASA. But then I realised, hang on, much like yoghurt, cheese is just gone-off-milk, and that is something I acquire regularly in my house without even trying. So I decided to have a go.

I started simple, with halloumi.

Squeaky Cheese (as it is correctly known), should really be made with sheep or goats' milk, however since the former is tricky to get in West Norwood and the latter is horrible, I went with full fat cow juice.

First, you throw all the milk in a pan (I used 4 pints, as any less isn't really worth the bother) and heat it gently to 35C. The fishtank thermometer finally earned its keep here, but to be honest it's really just blood temperature, so if you put a finger in and you can't feel hot or cold, that's about right.

Then drop in some rennet, according to the instructions on the packet. The Vegeren that I had only had a recipe for junket, and I was using four times the amount of milk specified for that recipe, and wanted cheese, not junket (has anyone even eaten that since 1957 anyway?), so I just guessed and sloshed in four-and-a-bit times as much. I also left out the strawberry flavouring.

Put the lid on the pan and wait for half an hour or so, poking it intermittently to see if anything's happening. Just as you start to despair, the milk will separate into curds and whey. I didn't take a picture as, frankly, it looks dishearteningly like baby sick at this point. You then pour the whole lot into a big sheet of muslin. Then - if you're me - you must stand there while you realise that you don't have any string within reach and thusly no way of hanging it up without making an unholy mess.

Make an unholy mess.

Return with string taken from an old gift bag (I knew there was a reason we were keeping those), tie the muslin parcel up and hang it from a cupboard door over the pan for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, take a pint or so of the whey that drips from the muslin and put it in the fridge with 2 or 3 teaspoons of salt in it.

Stay awake most of the night waiting for the splash that means that the gift-bag string has snapped and the whole proto-cheesy abomination has fallen off and covered the kitchen in sour milk.

The next day - assuming the last bit didn't happen - unwrap the muslin to reveal what is now mozzarella-textured, white cheese. It tastes quite nice - not 'cheesy' as such but sort of creamy and bland. It is essentially paneer at this point; the last stage is what makes it Squeaky Cheese.

Put the pan - with the whey that drained out of the cheese in the night - back on the heat and bring to the boil. Carefully place slices of the cheese into the whey and boil gently for about 20-30 minutes. It won't look or feel much different when it comes out, but once it's cooled, put it in a sealed container and cover with the brine you made the day before. After a few hours - presto! Squeaky Cheese! The four pints of milk made the equivalent of about two packs of the commercial stuff.

It gets saltier and more halloumi-eqsue the longer it is left in the brine, and apparently will keep for a good couple of weeks. I've had it 5 days so far and it's tasting yummy.

Now at least if I ever meet Alex from Blur I'll have something to talk about.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Winning Masterchef does not give you the right to confuse me with spoons, Thomasina Myers.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, so my Significant Otter and I dragged our arses away from the X Files for an evening and went out for Romance. We’re pretty good at Romance. We have it down to a tee. It usually goes something like this:
ME: Oh. You ate half my waffle.
HIM: Yes, but I didn’t eat all of it. ROMANCE!
It’s like being in a Richard Curtis movie sometimes.
So, last night we went out to see The Princess Bride at the Prince Charles Cinema (which is ace, if you haven’t been there, go. They’re showing Flashdance on 4th March. Go then. ).
But before that we went to Wahaca in Soho for some Mexican food.
Wahaca is weird. In many ways.
The food is good. There’s nothing wrong with the food. But...well....
When you get there, they ask you if you have been there before. DO NOT SAY NO. If you say no, this happens:
“Welcome to Wahaca. My name is Meg” [writes ‘Meg’ in big letters on your paper menu thing, in case you forget, or wondered how it was spelled]
"This is the menu. This ‘Drinks and Nibbles’ section has all our drinks and nibbles. The main courses are here, where it says ‘Mains’, and sides are over here. Under ‘sides’....” This goes on for about 5 minutes.
I’ve never understood places that do this. "Ah, you’ve never been here before? Then you must be completely unaware of the concept of a menu, here’s how it works..."
Later, she brings some salsa to the table. “This is salsa. It goes with your food.” Does it? Good. Glad you pointed that out, I was just about to pour it into my beer. “This sauce is HOT. Don’t eat this one unless you like HOT sauce because it is HOT”.
Oh good. I’m glad you flagged that up:

For pudding I had cheesecake with hibiscus syrup. They love hibiscus at Wahaca, it’s in everything. They also put hibiscus flowers on top of everything, even though, unless they’re opening elegantly in the bottom of a champagne glass, they actually look like some sort of dried insect made of suede. The SO had ‘Flan de Casa’ (crème caramel, to you. Cold custard, to me).
All very nice indeed.
BUT. They make you eat it with a bright pink plastic baby spoon. I kid you not, look:

It’s not even got a concave bowl. It’s basically a spatula. A pink plastic spatula. You try eating crème caramel with a spatula. It’s not easy. It is very funny, but it’s not easy. For a moment I wondered whether the waitress had just seen my dinosaur bag and made a judgement call on my mental capacity but no, everyone else was using toddler cutlery too.
And then there’s the toilets.
To start with, the entire wall into the toilets is glass. I hate glass walls in pubs and restaurants. Mostly because when I am in these establishments I am likely to be drunk for at least a portion of the evening. The drunken fly-against-a-window dance is not a good look.
Anyway, once you get in there are four doors with a picture of a woman on (fine), and three with a picture of a man (we understand this). Then there is one with a picture of a woman dragging a man by his tie. I mean, what? You’re with me, right? Is this the shagging loo? Don’t get it.
There’s also a MASSIVE tiled arrangement in the middle of the room that could be a) a sink, b) a urinal or c) the Diana Memorial Fountain. At least two of these things should never be confused with each other.
So, yeah. Wahaca is just plain odd. Or possibly I'm not hip enough to understand it.
The Princess Bride was ace though.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Bag Lady

A while back I got some very cool fabric with dinosaurs on it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with it, other than make everything out of it because all things are made at least 350% better with the addition of dinosaurs. Science fact.

I finally decided to start off with a bag. I cycle to work, lugging everything there and back in very uncool panniers. This means that at lunchtime, if I want to pop out to take advantage of the vast array of high-end shops on Clapham High Street (ok, Neros and Boots), I have no handbag and have to wedge all my stuff in my pockets. With this in mind, today I embarked on my first bagmaking project, using the dinosaur print and some canvas to make a basic satchel, with pockets for my phone, Oyster card, and MP3 player, and a big main section the right size to take a book. Everything I might need for my lunchtime adentures, and all in a bag that can fold up tiny and light and stick in the pocket of my panniers. Yes, I am this sad.

I also made a little purse out of some dinosaur scraps. Scraps of dinosaur fabric, that is, not discarded scales.

Surprisingly, they actually turned out not too bad. Hurray for dinosaurs!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

I believe in the Baby Cheeses

This post was originally going to be titled 'Whey-hey!'. Be thankful for small mercies.

Another dairy success today, this time in the form of some lovely yoghurt cheese, made simply by leaving the raw yoghurt in a muslin to drain for 24 hours. An entire litre of milk drained down to make about 500g of pure white, creamy yumminess:

It looked a but like mozzarella but is actually more like the texture of Philadelphia. Not being a 'true' cheese, it doesn't taste particularly..well..cheesy, but rather has a very fresh, clean creamy taste that could swing towards either sweet or savoury depending on what you put on it. A bit like creme fraiche.

So another successful addition to the list of 'things I shall no longer hand over my hard-earned to Mr Supermarket for' - cream cheese. In your FACE, Sainsbury's. (I choose to tactfully overlook the several extra gallons of milk I'm buying from them per week).

'But', I hear you cry (if I listen very carefully), 'if one litre of milk went into this and a mere tiny pot of cream cheese came out, what happened to the rest of the milk? By what alchemy is it disappeared?'.

What a good question. I'm glad you've been paying attention.

This process resulted in over a pint of 'leftover' whey. This stuff may look like a sample taken from someone who has been told by their doctor to start ringing round all their past partners, but it's actually full of goodness.

Whey is about 25% protein (apparently), and is the same stuff that is dried and powdered to make those very expensive (and a bit gay), bodybuilding shake things. It basically contains most of the goodness and vitamins of the raw milk, but with the fat taken out. If it weren't for the fact that the term is entirely made up by pretend doctors, I would call it a Superfood.

So, waste not want not. A quick trawl of the interwebs confirms that this unicorn nectar can be used in place of milk or buttermilk in baking. An idea was born. And it was a good one.

'Buttermilk' Cinnamon Scones

What you put in
8 oz self-raising flour
1.5 oz butter
1.5 oz sugar
5fl oz whey
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch salt

What you do with it
Rub the butter into the flour till it resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir in the sugar, salt and cinnamon
Mix in the whey and draw together to form a soft dough. (This is a tried and tested scone recipe I always use - if you don't have whey or buttermilk you can just use the same amount of regular milk).
Roll out to 2cm thick and cut with a small cookie cutter. Tip - when cutting scones out, never twist the cookie cutter. It'll make the scone rise unevenly.
Bake for 12 minutes at 220C.

What you get
12 very tasty scones, and burnt fingers from being too impatient to cut them open and try them. An interesting side effect of using whey instead of milk was that they didn't come out as white as they normally would, instead they were a pleasing wholemealy colour which made them look healthy even though they certainly didn't taste it (something all food should aspire to, if you ask me).

I ate mine with a dollop of the yoghurt cheese, some of my good friend Warmbreadandhoney's delicious homemade orange, vanilla and honey marmalade, and a generous sprinkling of satisfaction at having created such a delicious monster.

Plus, everyone knows that homemade food has no calories, so everyone's a winner.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Busy Busy Busy

As is pretty self-evident, I haven't posted anything for the last few days. This is not because the yoghurt was so monumentally, overawingly exciting that I had to lay down in a darkened room before my next project (although, blimey, it was bloody terrific), but because it's awfully busy being me, sometimes.

I mean, you may think you have a hectic life, but right now, these are just some of the things on my 'To Do' list. I have to prioritise them otherwise I don't know where I'd be:

Short term:
  • Finish this can of Shandy Bass (we had a bit of a retro moment in Sainsbury's last week. To save you your own 49p, it's not as good as it was when you were ten. Don't bother).
  • Remover tht cat from teh kuyboard,
Medium term
  • Crochet Boba Fett amigurumi doll.
  • Become so pleased with Boba Fett doll that I have to immediately start on the rest of the Star Wars characters.
  • Make matching shopping bag, make up bag and coin purse out of newly acquired canvas and dinosaur fabric (really quite excited about this one. My mum always said that proper ladies have coordinated bags and purses. I can't wait to be a proper lady. I wonder what it's like? I've got a Cath Kidston biscuit tin now so I'm already nearly there. I bet it's brilliant.)
  • Tomorrow morning - check to see whether yoghurt draining in fridge has successfully turned into soft cheese.
  • Make scones out of whey from yoghurt/cheese creation.
  • Investigate making halloumi with newly acquired bottle of rennet.
  • Finish reading Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter
Long Term
  • Make a LOT of bunting for wedding reception.
  • Get married.
  • Knit second elbow-length batgirl glove to go with the one I finished in November then got bored with.
  • Polish the stair rods, tumble dry our doilies, hoover the roof and whistle down the chimneys.
Having looked at the above:
  • Get out more.
See? You thought you had problems.

Although to prove how ultra-efficient I am, I've just completed both of my short-term goals in the time it took to type the rest. I should be a life coach.

I plan to start on some of the others tomorrow. Right now, I'm all crafted-out. I'm off to watch My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding with the cats. Don't judge me.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Yoghurt Win

I doubt anybody out there got a wink of sleep last night, what with tossing and turning all night wondering whether my yoghurt had successfully yogged. I know I didn't.

Well, this morning I bounded into the kitchen (I blatantly didn't bound. It was 8am.), and peeked into the Thermos. Lo and behold, all that friendly bacteria had spent the night busily growing, breeding, building tiny cities, inventing religions, creating rudimentary systems of economy, fighting wars - and in the process turned my boring old pot of cow juice into delicious, creamy yoghurt.

It was just the right consistency, smooth and spoonable and actually tasted better than the poncy Yeo Valley Organic stuff I'd used as a starter.


Now, a less adventurous sort would stop there. Not me. Oh no. I decided to take the process one step further. I know. I live life on the edge. Stop reading now if the excitement is getting too much.

I decanted half of my yoghurty winnings into a pot to have as it is. The other half I put through a muslin cloth and left to strain while I went out for a few hours, thusly:

(I have included the above picture as it makes me look like a proper cook who actually has things like muslin, sieves, and ambient yet sensual kitchen lighting).

 When I returned I had - ta da! Greek Yoghurt! Well, Greek style I guess - I should clarify that before herds of irate Hellenic types start pelting me with olives.

It really is as yummy as the expensive stuff from the supermarket - if not more so. I've mixed mine with honey and it is divine. It'll be lucky to last till morning.

Here are the yoghurt babies:

The one on the right is not half eaten. That is how much Greek yoghurt you get from the same amount of ordinary yoghurt. The other 50% is whey. I've heard that you can use this in place of milk in scones or bread, but that's an experiment for another time.

Here's the thing. This was probably the easiest bit of 'cooking' I've ever done. All I did was make milk hot, let it get a bit cooler, then leave it for a number of hours. Bit it's funny how the simplest things are the most rewarding. Look at that warm snuggly feeling you get from baking bread, for instance. Making something very basic out of other, even more basic things. It's brilliant, like magic.

I think everyone should knit their own yoghurt. Dairy alchemy: it's the way forward.

EDIT: Things I learned about yoghurt knitting
  • Fishtank thermometers only go up to 40 degrees and are thusly useless for yoghurt knitting, which is an oversight on the part of the manufacturers, in my opinion. 50 degrees can be measured by sticking a clean finger in the milk. If you can hold it in there for about 10-15 seconds before it gets to the 'Ow, that's quite painfully hot now' stage, it's about right.
  • The milk powder addition is essential if you want a nice thick yoghurt.
  • The whole 'skipping gaily downstairs to have fresh yoghurt for breakfast' thing doesn't work. When you open the Thermos, the yoghurt will still be warm. Warm yoghurt is rank. Science fact. Put it in the fridge and have it tomorrow.
  • I still don't know how you're really meant to spell yoghurt. Does it even have an 'h'?

Monday, 7 February 2011

In which I knit my own yoghurt

When I was little my mum had a Bel Yoghurt maker. Once every six months or so this contraption would come out of the cupboard and it would be time for the trek to the health food shop to get a precious pot of live yoghurt as a starter. This was before bacteria was friendly, when 'live' yoghurt was the preserve of the hippies and spoon benders and would more often than not be made of goats milk.

What happened then is all a bit hazy. I seem to remember that she put the scary bacteria-infested yoghurt into the big white pot, added some milk (full fat was allowed in the house for only this purpose), and three weeks later I would be made to eat some revolting sour white goop that tasted nothing like Petit Filous. Child Poison.

Now that I am a grown up, I have forgiven natural yoghurt its sins and come to quite like it. I've also found out that the Bel Yoghurt maker was actually just a thermos flask with a thermometer hooked on the side.

So - my next project. I shall turn this unassuming pile of ingredients into a whole litre of delicious yoghurt. Yes, I know nobody needs a whole litre of yoghurt. But that's how much my thermos holds, so that's how much I'm getting.

What you put in

A litre (or so) of milk. I'm using half full fat and half skimmed, because that's what I have. Yes, our milk is in a jug. This is not because we are a family from a breakfast cereal advert, but because in an effort to be economical we use those 'Jug It' bags of milk from Sainsbury's, and the bloody things ALWAYS burst when we try to put them in the proper juggy thing. Anyway, that's a rant for another day.

A small pot of live yoghurt (you can get this in the supermarket now. I know, how progressive!)

A spoonful of powdered milk (this thickens it a bit, apparently)

What you do with it

Bring the milk to the boil. This evicts all the bad bacteria, making space for the good ones (or something)

Let it cool to 50C. You need a thermometer for this, ideally. I don't have one but have just remembered that there's one in the fish tank. Hmmm....

Add about a dessertspoonful of the live yoghurt to the milk and mix it in, trying not to lose too much heat.

Pour the lot into a wide-necked thermos and put in a warm place overnight.

Skip gaily down the stairs to the kitchen for breakfast, secure in the knowledge that the dairy alchemy has worked and you have outwitted the supermarkets yet again.

Pretend you like it because it's healthy. Then mix in loads of Nutella when nobody's looking.

Now, I've never done this before, but yoghurt is just gone-off milk with style, surely?

How hard can it be?

Off to make it now. I shall report back tomorrow....

Cheat's Ice Cream

First off - a disclaimer: This is not a how-to blog. I really don't know enough about anything to even pretend that anyone can read this and learn how to cook or sew or knit the Taj Mahal out of tofu. But where I can I will try to include the instructions and recipes I use just so that you can see how very very easy it all is.

I'm not organic, or GM free, vegan, freegan, vogon or vulcan. When cooking, my agenda is to make tasty stuff, as easily - and often as cheaply - as possible. If I can do it, anyone can.

Most of what I do comes from the interwebs - recipes, discussion forums etc - so it seems only fair that I should post the results back through the internet pipes.

Yesterday's Blackberry Ripple No Churn Cheaty Cheat Cheats Ice Cream is a pretty good example to start with.

What you put in:

1 big pot double cream (500ml? 568ml? Whatever the big ones are)

1 tin condensed milk (yup, this is aaall class)

2 tsps vanilla extract

A handful of blackberries (I've still got a big bag of frozen ones I picked last autumn; how Tom and Barbara is that?)

Three or four big spoons of golden caster sugar

A slug of Creme de Cassis (optional, but who doesn't have Cassis? Nobody I know, that's for sure)

What you do with it:

Stick the blackberries in a small pan along with the sugar, cassis, and a drop of water just to help it cook down. Bring to the boil, then simmer away for 3 or 4 minutes or until you get bored. It should go to a squishy, jammy sort of syrup.

Allow the syrup and fruit to cool, then whizz it up with a blender. Squish it all through a sieve to get rid of the pips.

Restrain yourself from eating all the fruity sugary goodness and put it in the fridge out of harm's way.

Whisk up the cream until it forms 'soft peaks'. I define this as that moment just after you have given up all hope of it ever thickening at all but just before the ohmygodivecreatedanabomination moment when it goes solid.

Chuck in the condensed milk and vanilla extract and whisk till the whole lot forms those soft peaks again. Get someone else to throw away the condensed milk tin while you are whisking so that you don't become distracted by trying to lick it.

Pour the whole billowing loveliness into an ice cream tub. Drizzle over the fruity goo and use a spatula or knife to swirl it through. Freeze overnight.

What you get out

Oh dear God. This stuff is brilliant. Ice cream purists will throw a blue fit at this sweet, Mr-Whippy style concoction but if you've got a sweet tooth and no concerns about eating 1200 calories per teaspoon, this is for you. It is EPIC. Do note though that this type of ice cream melts much quicker than the proper stuff, so don't take it out of the freezer until just before you need it.

I made this!

Before the proper middle-aged, mid-life crisis of sports cars and menopause comes the less well-documented early-to-mid-life drama that occurs when you hit 30. It affects everyone differently, but in my case it appears that I am careering into my fourth decade with a desperate need to somehow mark my time on this planet by Making Stuff Out of Things. Sewing, cooking, crocheting - if it sits still I will craft it.

I try to justify this as some kind of natural nesting instinct, or an environmentally-and-economically-conscious way of preserving resources and making something from nothing in the way of my foremothers. But if I'm honest, that's not it. What has actually made me pick up my crochet needles and pinking shears for the first time since school is much more akin to a small child proudly handing over a picture of a tiger (or is it an orange? Or is it mummy?), to be stuck on the fridge.

I'm not etsy-ing or folksy-ing or ebay-ing - I'm not even very good at any of it. I'm just furiously creating stuff to be stuck on the Fridge of Approval. Next to the 'Welcome to Vegas' magnet and the remnants of rude fridge poetry.

This blog is just an extension of the fridge, really. Feel free to smile, nod, and pretend that you know what it is I have drawn in the yellow crayon. Next to the tiger.