cheese in paradise

Indiana & Quinto pruning trees at Harmony Farm, 2015

Indiana & Quinto pruning trees at Harmony Farm, 2015

We are abundantly lucky to have an especially magical holiday each year, to my mama's tiny farm in the hills of Andalusia. It's amazing how content the most basic living standards can be as long as the sun is reliably shining. We sleep in a tiny, sloping hut my mama and her partner Quinto built themselves from old bedsprings (!), share a remarkably pleasant outdoor composting toilet (also built by them) and bathe in river water, when we remember to bathe. The power is only solar, and it goes without saying that there is no television. The air is filled with the scent of orange blossoms and song of bees in the springtime, you have to dodge falling pomegranates in late summer and wintertime is for the olive harvest. There is such an abundance of food from the land, and everything tastes at least a hundred times more delicious than anything shop-bought. Fresh OJ for brekkie, almonds to collect and shell then toast or turn to milk or cheese, salads and fruit trees, broad beans to shell in the sunshine as a happy team. And if we need eggs then every little homestead a short walk away has chickens. 

Every afternoon I steal some time to lie on the flat roof and let the sunshine throb through me, soaking up a book, whilst the kids climb trees or hike hills or scrub the big empty swimming pool ready to fill from the river for an icy frog-ridden swim. There's no sound beyond the lazy carpenter bees and the occasional breeze rustling the sage bushes, until the distant sound of goat bells begins, and they all slowly plod up the hillside to graze, the air filling with their hypnotic tune. This last trip my mama offered to show us how to make our own cheese, so we went off down the riverbed to visit Davide the goat herder, and collect some milk from my sunbathing companions.

It takes quite a lot of milk to make a decent sized cheese - we collected 3 litres which was plenty. It goes without saying that this milk is totally unpasteurised - if you are buying milk and you can't find raw, unpasteurised milk then make sure you get full fat, organic, non homogenised milk - the kind with the layer of cream sat at the top, ideally. Once home we poured it through a muslin to remove any dirt and hair. We then heated the milk in a big saucepan with a thermometer to sterilisation point - 38C - which is the same point at which the milk begins to rise in the pan. Immediately remove from the heat. Leave to cool slightly until milk is warm. Stir in lemon juice. The amount of lemon juice you add varies totally from batch to batch. Begin to stir it in half lemon by half lemon and stop once the milk begins to form curds. Now leave the milk to cool completely. 

Once cooled, strain the cheese through a fresh muslin and squeeze out as much liquid as possible - make sure you keep this liquid as it is essentially buttermilk and great for making pancakes with! Tie the muslin at the top and hang it, over a bowl to collect any liquid, for a few hours, then you can either transfer it to keep straining in the fridge or transfer it to a cheese mould or press which does the same job - removing as much liquid as possible. Be sure not to have the cheese in anything airtight though - air needs to circulate and moisture needs to drain. 

Separating the curds and whey

Separating the curds and whey

After a day or so in the fridge your cheese will be set. The longer you leave it the more solid but also more tangy it will be come. The less time you leave it the sweeter it is - more like ricotta. We ate ours asap with peaches and pancakes made with the buttermilk, but any left longer can be rubbed in salt to prevent mould. Or you can form it into creamy little balls, rub in herbs and drop it into jars of oil, a technique we learned earlier in the summer whilst doing a little cheese making workshop at Fforest Gather. Either way, delicious, and fun, easy and magic for kids to join in with. As well as much better for you than anything you could buy in a shop...  

Indy showing off our yummy goat's whey pancakes

Indy showing off our yummy goat's whey pancakes

Purple hail

purplegnocchi

The days seem suddenly longer and lighter, and we had already taken for granted that after school would once more mean lolling in the park, skateboarding down hills and demanding ice creams that we would never EVER finish (ahem...), working on our chasing and catching skills, and casually topping up our suntans. But today there was hail. HAIL. In late April. So we had a little family cooking & music session... 

In light of Prince sadly popping up to the stars on Friday/because it was a rad excuse to dig out my Purple Rain vinyl & inflict it on the kids/because our Abel & Cole veggie box delivered us a big bag of them that urgently needed eating, we settled on using our purple potatoes. My kids are strange, in that they will happily devour mountains of raw greens or pull apart big scary prawns, but aren't very happy about eating potatoes in any form other than deep fried. Blue chips seemed like a cop out, so we thought we would experiment with a purple gnocchi supper. 

Gluten Free Purple Gnocchi

700g purple potatoes
1/3 cup flour (we used Doves Farm plain gluten free flour blend)
1 small egg

In an ideal world, your first step would be to bake your purple potatoes for 45ish mins, then scoop out the flesh into a bowl. This retains maximum purpleness and keeps everything nice and dry. We were nowhere near as organised, and only had 30 mins before tummies were going to start demanding to be filled, so we peeled, boiled and drained ours extremely well. Both kids are very into peeling veg at the moment, because they are mad, so loved labouring over each potato whilst I silently panicked over how long it was taking them. Once your potato is skin free, cooked and in a bowl, whatever the method, mash well and add 1/3 cup of flour - we went gluten free with Doves Farm's plain gf blend, but I reckon rice flour would work well or you can use regular plain flour if you're not fussed about gluten content. Also add one small egg - cracking the eggs is easy and fun for kids so I always let them do this bit and they rarely get egg everywhere or any shell in the bowl. Add a couple of pinches of salt (& pepper if you like). 

Indy peeling spuds... 

Indy peeling spuds... 

The mashing of the ingredients is another bit the kids can totally take over on. Basically with this meal they are doing the lot, so you can sit back and relax (unless you are too busy taking pictures, like me....) The mixture quickly comes together into a lovely satisfying dough which Indy very accurately compared to play doh. Separate into 4 separate pieces and roll each one out into a long snake - another job for the kids - then cut each snake into bite size nuggets. The texture makes this a really easy job for the kids to practice using a proper knife, and much was their glee at being trusted with something sharp and grown-up. 

gnocchisnakes

Once the nuggets are chopped, roll a fork over them to make them look lovely and authentic and gnocchiesque. Or, if you are doing this with kids, give up on that and accept that they will all be totally different shapes and sizes and degrees of squashedness, but will nevertheless taste the same. 

gnocchicut

Add your beautiful misshapen purple nuggets to boiling salted water and wait for them to float to the surface and tell you they're done, which takes approximately a minute, so don't wander off. Drain immediately and serve with something buttery, or we made a quick pesto from fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, olive oil & some goat's cheese. Devoured. Prince would totally not approve, because he was a vegan, but I'm sure there's an easy vegan version of this... 

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Biscuit Brigade

This blog has been like a ghost town since my last post, which promised a website reveal and cronuts recipe that never materialised. The shame! I promise they are both on the horizon, and will appear one day before the year's end. In the meantime I've been up to my armpits in cake orders and small children, and haven't even checked an email for actual weeks. However, I've been shocked out of my sugar rush by the realisation that Christmas is hurtling towards me. It's just one month away, and I've not even thought about all the festive fun I want to cram in before I wake up in a sea of Quality Street wrappers on the 27th to the harsh realisation that life is once again devoid of reason for overeating, over-baking, random platters of large cheeses and general overindulgence in port. 

IMG_7889.jpg

So it was that we kicked things off with a gingerbread party! I thought it would be fun to add a bit of nutrition to balance the treacle, and so we attempted the following, which I stumbled upon via this site

Spelt and Agave Gingerbread

330g spelt flour 
.5 tsp salt
.75 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
.25 tsp ground nutmeg
.25 tsp ground cloves
113g unsalted butter
1 large egg
80ml agave syrup
80ml treacle/molasses

(if you prefer your gingerbread lighter in colour, use golden syrup in place of treacle)

some of the treacle actually made it into the dough...

some of the treacle actually made it into the dough...

The dough is so easy to make that the kids did it all themselves, bar the weighing and measuring, and despite devouring dangerous amounts of treacle along the way it came together perfectly. Mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl, and all the wet (including butter) in another, then just stir them together, at some stage transferring from spoon to hands to squish it all into a ball. We then left ours in the fridge overnight, but you would want to leave it for at least half an hour as otherwise it's too sticky to work with. 

Cutter-sorting kept her busy for almost an hour! Coup!

Cutter-sorting kept her busy for almost an hour! Coup!

Next day we had besties Edie & Holly coming over for a dinner date, so we planned a gingerbread baking party beforehand and the kids went to town making some fabulous gingery creations. Roll the dough out to about 5mm thickness, cut your desired shape, then pop on a parchment-lined tray in the oven (170C) for approx 10 minutes. We decorated ours first, with varying degrees of success, with pumpkin seeds, raisins, sugar crystals and bits of orange peel. You could also ice with basic royal icing and sprinkles after they are cooked and cooled, which I did a tiny bit of before losing interest and just eating them. The pumpkin seeds were super yummy baked into the gingerbread. It was lovely to watch the kids really get into decorating - Indy and Holly, despite being the littlest, really focussed on making pretty designs. It took them ages to catch on to the fact that the dough was edible, at which point we had to step in and confiscate itโ€ฆ Such a lovely activity from start to finish, that the kids can really just take over with and isn't hideously messy. Needless to say we all enjoyed devouring them afterwards tooโ€ฆ