Saturday, July 19, 2008


So here’s the fun! We’re making cheese- at home. That’s right- in the spirit of playing with our food we have attempted to make our own Mozzarella.

Whilst reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book- ‘Animal, Vegetable , Miracle’ I was so inspired by the stories of home made cheese, that I shared the idea with Ash – and we jumped in boots and all.

There are plenty of places in Melbourne that support the eating of good cheese and artisan cheese supply/purchase- there are even cheese clubs (think Richmond Hill Larder) and cheese making classes (the Larder again and Red Hill Cheese- Mornington). But the problem we came up against was not finding enthusiasts or supportive ideas and guidelines- it was in finding rennet- that ingredient that ‘sets’ the milk and helps the curds separate from the whey so that cheese can firm up and harden.

We searched high and low. Even online suppliers were hard to find (and somewhat a dampener on our enthusiasm when we could not start right away).

We did locate a place at Little River that supplies rennet, Cheese Links, but not being open on a Saturday meant that the 55km drive out of Melbourne might have been a waste if we had turned up to a shut up shop.

We did find other online suppliers (countrybrewer)- and we will pursue the purchase of rennet in the following days and weeks- but in the interests of getting started we located the recipe for some ‘Junket’ Mozzarella.

Now according to all the research, the major difference between junket and rennet is 1.) the price (though for the small amounts required for home cheese making, this is hardly a factor), and 2.) the reliability of the reaction caused by the product. Rennet apparently makes for a more predictable and stable outcome in cheese making and the flavour is always consistent.
In contrast, junket certainly sets the milk and helps to separate the curds and the whey, but there were numerous warnings that it was unpredictable in its consistency and depending on other factors also had the potential to impart a bitterness to the cheese.

Undaunted and desperate to get some form of cheese making on the whey (ha!), we purchased all our ingredients and a milk thermometer (for latte’s and cappuccino’s daaahling) and set up shop in the kitchen.

After meticulously wiping down and disinfecting the kitchen bench, we set the milk to warm and the citric acid and junket to separate our curds and whey…

And we wait…. For 1 hour to be precise- worrying like new mothers about the consistency of our junket and watching nervously as some of the milk curdled and the rest looked decidedly lush and full. What is a cheese lover/mother to do?
Little Miss Muffet sat on her Tuffet, eating her curds and whey….
While Ashley had a nap on the couch- drowsy from the mid winter sunshine.

*1 hour later*

Once the wait is done and the baby is born… I mean set. At this stage the curds come away from the sides of the pan easily and in one lovely milky jelly mass.
So we slice the junket in to cubes and reheat the mass to 42decC and stir it gently for another 35minutes of babying the cheese.

As we do this, the curds attempt to merge back together and we constantly and gently separate them with our plastic spatular.
Then when the reheating is done- the lovely lumps are lifted out with a slotted poon and placed in a colander to drain as much of the greenish whey away as possible.

And this is where the fun sets in- the chance that we really have to ‘play with our food’. The curd firms up as the moisture seeps away and then in a pyrex bowl we heat it in the microwave and then knead it like a soft smelly dough.
More whey seeps out- Ash burns his fingers whilst kneading- then we reheat it and knead it again.
This is done three times, then we place the cheese to set once and for all in a bowl of cool salted water and set it in the fridge.

So here’s the truth- with the use of junket rather than rennet, the look of the cheese was a little different to what we expected (hence the warning that junket can be unpredictable). Let’s call it lumpy looking- not the smooth elastic mozzarella that you’re used to seeing in shinny balls at the supermarket. But… it tasted wonderful. Like great creamy, salty wedges of happiness.
Once past the lumpy exterior, the consistency was wonderful- all rubbery and firm- moist, but not wet.
We left it in brine over night, which made the outside heavy on the salt, but this added to the flavour sensation.
It’s a food game we will play again- to the point of suggesting that we may even try to make one cheese a week, rather than buy the copious amounts of (sometimes questionable quality) cheese that we do.
We ate it fresh with home baked bread, fresh basil and slices of tomato - with a little bit of olive oil and a dash of lemon juice- I was very happy with my Sunday lunch!

It was odiforous- but there is nothing like great funky smells to bring you closer to your food.

So here is the recipe we used and pictures of each stage of development…
It seems to have worked (all our conversions are our own).

Junket Mozzarella Cheese-

2 litres of milk
3/4 of a tsp of citric acid powder dissolved in a 1/4 of a cup of cool water
1/8 of a teaspoon of junket powder dissolved in 1/8 cup of cool water.

In a 2litre heavy based stainless steel saucepan gently heat the milk to 31decC.
Add the citric acid and water mixture and stir well with a sterilized plastic of stainless steel spoon.
Add the junket solution and stir well. The milk will appear to curdle- this is exactly the result we are hoping to achieve.
Leave the junket to set for 1 hour- when pushing lightly on the surface you will see the set junket separate from the edge of the pan leaving the greenish whey behind.
The junket is ready when this consistency has been achieved.

With a long stainless steel knife cut the curds into small cubes (around 2cm x 2cm- or a similar and manageable size).

Reheat the curds and stir until they are warmed through again.
Drain the curds in a colander, then place them in a pyrex bowl and then knead them until they make a firm ball.
Reheat them for 1 minute on high in the microwave and knead again.
Repeat until you have done this three times.
Form cheese into a ball and place in slated, cold water to store. Once cold- served sliced!

Wonderful- if a little labour intensive.

A note on the milk: (make sure it is unpasturized and certainly NOT UHT treated, or it wont set, the protein strands are too knocked about by UHT treatment).

Friday, July 11, 2008


There is nothing better than home made.
And I mean truly home made- from scratch- better again if you grew it first.

But let's face it- most of us don't have the facility to do this. So the closest we can come is finding good quality fresh ingredients, close to the source and then giving the preparation our best shot from there.

In an attempt to really appreciate and connect with our food- we have been making as much as we can for ourselves. The list so far looks like this:

Pasta (thanks to Ash's love of his little silver pasta roller)
Bread (from organic flour)- helped marginally by a bread maker (when time is short)
Cheese- we only mastered this very recently and I urge everyone to try it- particularly if you love your cheese, there is a real sense of accomplishment here.
We are pikkling our own olives.
Museli (we have a preferred mix of our own)
All pasta sauces (never rely on a bottled 'authentic' taste- freshness is what gives a sauce its authenticity)

I recently decided that if I loved a food enough- and in my mission to be 'unafraid in the kitchen'- then I should learn to make it. Particularly if I did not know how to (hence the cheese experiment with junket).
Learning how to make those things that you love and are willing to spend money on, gives you such a sense of joy and appreciation of food. So imagin- if you already love it, you'll be that much closer to it if you really did 'make it yourself'.

So, I am slowly gathering a list of things that I must try to make myself, beyone all the endless recipes and combinations of general meals, flavours and foods that constantly plead with me to give them a go.

Outside of a usual meal, these are the things I have yet to tackle-
*CherryRipe (the little bites of chocolate, not the unbiquitous slice)
*More cheese (mozzarella mastered- camembert here I come!)
*Duck pancake
*Yum Cha (all kinds of dumpling goodness)
*Chai spice blend
*Qunice paste / preserved quince
-I'll update more as they occour.

But today's challenge is cooked/marinated 'artichoke hearts'. It starts with the beauty in a fresh artichoke- at my local IGA I simply could not resist them- they were so verdent and snappy looking. I briefly glanced at them and my mind was flooded with horror stories of how difficult they are to cook and so I walked on by. But, on my second round through the fruit and vege isle and steering away from the usual cavalcade of vege's I thought- well hang on a second, you pickkle your own olives and make your own cheese, in face you're here to get salt for both these things right now, why not give marinated artichokes a go? How hard can they actually be?
And here is how hard they actually were.

When I began I had no real idea of how to treat the artichokes- various books said that I needed to 'remove the choke' from mature artichokes. After peeling back leaves and seeing no practicle way to do this without destroying the globes themselves, I desisted. I simply trimmed the stems, peeled back the leaves until they revealed the more tender inner leaves and removed about 1/3 from the top of the artichoke to get rid of the tough leaf tips.

Here's the best way I found to prepare them:
Rub the cut sections with lemon juice to stop enzymatic browning (so ugly) and then immerse the chokes into 'acidified water' for the same reason.
Set a pot of water on the stove and when at a roiling boil, submerge the chokes in the water (weight them down with a plate if necessary) and let them to boil for 15-20mins- until a skewer tells you they are soft.

While they are boiling- make a vinagrette (lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and in our case chopped parsley & tomato).
When the chokes are soft, drain them well.
Serve warm, topped with vinegrette- they havee the most wonderful slightly bitter and earthy flavour, follwed immediatly by a sweetness that is delicate and illusive!
The best part is that artichokes contain a natural chemical called cynarin. When you eat the fresh artichoke the cynarin reacts in the mouth and causes everything to tatste slightly sweeter. I had read this before, but until cooking my own arrtichokes, I had never experienced it first hand.
This amazing chemical caused even the air itself to tase slightly sweet to me. What an absolute pleasure!

These simple artichokes complement a steamed white fish fillet, boiled new potatoes with butter and an undressed baby leaf salad perfectly.
The greatest joy through the whole meal was eating artichoke, followed directly by a baby salad leaf- the sweet sensation was truly amazing. A chemestry experiment I strongly reccomend.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Have you ever heard of a little place called Koonwarra? Until recently I hadn’t. So when I heard that it was Australia’s first completely plastic bag free zone, we jumped in the car and headed south! Past Leongatha, south of Melbourne, An hour and a half in the car through pleasant country side, to the little town with ‘quite the badge of honour’ in this increasingly environmentally conscious world.
The downside to following this interest in the ‘environmentally aware’ - is that we had to drive to get there. My conscience was only assuaged by the fact that I was supporting such a great initiative by the visit and that I could see no practical way to visit the town without driving.
There. To get to the town with no plastic bags, we had to drive- one step at a time to save this world.

The town of Koonwarra is little more than a cluster of about 5 shops off the South Gippsland Highway- but such a pretty nest of shops and good intention I have never seen.
Koonwarra Store- (CafĂ©, Providore, Wine store- 03 5664 2309 – sits right on the corner of the cluster, and on a Sunday afternoon was simply bustling with life, wafting smells of goodness and the happy chatter of various groups that had come to Koonwarra for the joy of sharing food.

The shelves heave d under countless bottles of local jam & preserves (keep and eye out for the home made tomato sauces), and local produce underpinned the daily changing menu. With sun streaming in the French doors, friendly service and a book to peruse on the ‘functional Australian garden’ you couldn’t ask for a more positive sustainable food experience.
The town prides itself on being organic and sustainable & after the drive, nothing could have made me happier than the coffee and cheerful service that I received whilst pouring over a gardening book and planning where best to place the ‘functional aspects’ of the fictional garden that was growing in my mind.

After wandering through the shared garden at the back of the food store and perusing the vintage and recycled clothing shop next door, I was so refreshed and invigorated by the positive attitude of the area that I was as convinced as ever that now was my time to start growing my own beans!

When we got home I was so inspired that I grabbed the last of our russet pears, pulled out a trusty Marie Claire cook book and modified a recipe to make a ‘pear and almond-meal cake’.
When you are longing to prolong such a beautiful experience, the only sensible thing to do is cook a cake with seasonal ingredients.
With mashed autumn pear through the golden nutty & buttery goodness, this cake was a huge success.
The original recipe was for a plum cake- but here’s what we ended up with.

Autumn ‘Almond Russet Pear cake’


  • 2 fresh russet pears (squishy is good)- chop and mash 1 1/2 and then slice the rest for decoration.
  • 155g butter (room temp is best, but melted is fine)
  • 3/4 cup of castor sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups of almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (I recommend vanilla bean paste- closer to the bean when you can’t get them)
  • 1 1/2 cups self raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat your oven to 200degC.
Either by hand or in a blender, beat butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well.

In a separate bowl mash 1 1/2 pears and then add the pears, almond meal, vanilla, flour and baking powder to the egg and butter mixture.
Mix until well combined, or until your arm is ready to fall off.
Lightly grease a ring tin and pour the mixture in.

Lay the reserved slices of pear on top in whatever pattern best suits your cake tin and mood.

Bake for around 45 mins at 180degC- or until golden and a test skewer comes out clean.
Happiness is hot pear cake!

Served still hot (or even slightly warmed) with cream or natural yoghurt- this is Autumn/Winter cake at its best.

Note: the original recipe was for ‘Fresh Plum Cake’ & can be found on page 152 of 'Marie Claire - Cooking’.
For this version, I replaced the 4 plums with seasonal pears and reduced the number of eggs from 3 to 2.
Don’t be afraid to substitute and play around with seasonal fruit. If you think about the size & density of the fruit required by the recipe, you can almost certainly substitute it for another seasonal fruit, as was done here with pears.

All ingredients possible were organic- and I personally think this makes a difference to anything that you cook- it certainly makes the egg yolks yellower.

END: So next time you’re looking to back-in your interest in sustainable living without wellies and a straw hat, take the time to visit Koonwarra and see just how peaceful & inspiring life can be without plastic bags and fast food.


Welcome all heathens to my kitchen!

I’m on a bandwagon.
I’m a foodie and a cook and a food writer- and I am on the organic bandwagon.
I know all the reasons for organic, the bumph, the hype, the health, the health of the planet and the fact that it looks ‘oh so cool to tote the wicker basket at the local market’-and I love them all these reasons (both important and silly). I love them for the sense of community they bring. The idea that ‘we who have lost contact with the production of our food’ can somehow reach out to those who make the food and reconnect with the bounty of our world.

I am a city girl. But in recently I have begun to wish that I had been borne with a green thumb and in the country.
I envy my friends who grew up grading eggs and starting before dawn to help harvest before school (though I am sure that at least one of these friends would happily trade my childhood with hers).
I have a hankering to get back to nature. To produce my own food and to watch things grow. Idyllic and idealistic as it is in my head, and even knowing that the reality is somewhat less romantic and a damn sight more gruelling- I am that close to quitting it all and heading to Byron Bay with a bushel of seeds and a pitch fork.
This is no passing trend for me. It’s been going on for about 2 years now- this urge for a sea change, this obsession with where my food comes from, how it was grown and by what means it got here.

So to support this emotional trend and to acknowledge it in my current life (the one before I head for the hills and wear overalls for the rest of my days) I stopped shopping at chain supermarkets, and I began to frequent the local farmers markets and any organic communes that I could find. I did this, in order that when purchasing the food that I so dearly love I might also touch the hands that grew it and packed it.

Right now, the closest I can get to nature in a practical sense, is concentrating on my food and where it comes from.
It makes me happy and it brings me closer to my primordial gathering self.

I’m an organic wanker- I hope you are too- because there are so many good reasons to be one.

This blog is dedicated to a life's journey with food- to my belief that too many people have forgotten how to have fun with food & forgotten how to be 'unafraid' in their own kitchens.

I want to remind people that food is fun- if reaches out to every sensation- good food, played with, should smell good, feel good, sound good, look...interesting, and yes... TASTE good- you just have to be brave enough to find those thing in your food- they are certainly all there!

Nothing makes me happier than good food, sharing it and knowing where is comes from.
'Play with you food' is my attempt to bring people back to their kitchens for the sheer joy of it- and so I welcome all heathens to my hearth!