Home Cooking

Baked ricotta with Convent salad dressed with apricot vinaigrette
Baked ricotta with Convent salad dressed with apricot vinaigrette

A good friend came up for the weekend, providing an opportunity to prepare some rustic meals. Being on my own means I’m sometimes a little lazy cooking for myself and look forward to taking an extra step when I have visitors. I should entertain more here and also be a little more adventurous with my meals.

Anyway, it’s just starting to chill a little here in the mornings and nights so warming food is welcome. Pumpkin soup and homemade bread always goes down well and is easy to get on the table with minimum fuss. Making a big batch means I can have my own portions from the freezer any night (especially if I’m out in the garden until dark falls).

I haven’t made apple pie for ages so this was a good chance. Maybe next time I’ll scale down the pie dish from enormous size to something more practical for two.

I like to have yoghurt and homemade bread here for guests and this time I also extended to ricotta, all of which are super easy. The ricotta turned itself into baked ricotta after adding eggs, parmesan, semidried tomatoes (homemade, of course), olives and fresh garden basil. A salad of garden veg rounded off the meal.

We finished with more apple pie and ice-cream, topped with homemade strawberry syrup (again using Convent strawberries).

All in all, a satisfying culinary weekend. I’m keen to extend my cheese repertoire in practice for our next cheese making class.

Apple pie with homemade strawberry syrup - because the apple pie wasn't sewwt enough?!?
Apple pie with homemade strawberry syrup – because the apple pie wasn’t sweet enough?!?

“Blessed are the Cheesemakers”

Our cheeses incorporated into a luncheon spread including fetta and olive pull apart bread and spinach and sundried tomato ricotta tarts
Our cheeses incorporated into a luncheon spread including fetta and olive pull apart bread and spinach and sundried tomato ricotta tarts

… so said Monty Python with great wisdom and insight.

Cutting the curd - like the milkmaids of times past
Turning the curd – like the milkmaids of times past

My friend G and I undertook the task of learning to make cheese with a day-long workshop held by The Cheesemaking Workshop at High Valley in Mudgee. Cheesemaking seemed a difficult task given the complexities and varieties of cheeses available, however the class was great fun, highly informative and gave us great confidence that we would become serious artisan cheesemakers of the future.

Our class was learning the fundamentals of soft cheesemaking which would also be the basis for some of the more complex and hard cheeses. Amazingly, we managed to fit in so many types of cheese/dairy products – ricotta, quark, yoghurt, fetta, marscapone, camembert. We were in a group of about 12 that split into sub groups of three which gave us a highly hands on experience in making our own cheeses. It was surprising to see that this was so highly process driven with a few common ingredients and the scientific aspects that made the difference between the types of cheeses, such as how thickly curd was cut, how differently or frequently it was turned or agitated and then the difference in finishing – brines, drying, bacteria additions … All incredibly natural and not difficult – just following processes and being patient as it takes some time to go through steps and allow cheeses to develop.

Setting our cheeses in rounds to dry
Setting our cheeses in rounds to dry

Anyway, as a result of the classes, G and I came home well equipped to make cheese and confident to boot. We spent the next few days looking after our fetta and camembert and I’m keen to  make some ricotta and take it through to my own baked ricotta tarts. The class also showed us wonderful ways of incorporating our cheese into practical cooking which we more than sampled during the course.

I’d encourage anyone with an interest in cooking and produce to look into taking a course. I know the internet is a great resource and you can buy books, but taking a course, getting tips and doing it under the supervision of a good instructor just makes such a difference.

Our Marscapone efforts
Our Marscapone efforts

Oh … and please, never throw your cream out again. If it is close to the expiry date and you won’t be using it, just whip it up with a pinch of salt – you can use a handheld beater or a Bamix type blender stick or your full bowl mixer. Making your own butter is so much fun – just whip it and either form it into a ball or shape with your hand or implements. Squeeze out the whey and you have great homemade butter which will last a few more weeks.

I’ll post my cheese exploits in future posts.

The baby cheeses
The baby cheeses