So many countries with hotter climes than us make fantastic non alcoholic drinks like ginger beer or mango lassi. My favourite though is the Mexican classic horchata. Made with almond and rice milk and spiced with cinnamon and vanilla, this is better than a cold shower or an ice lolly. I first had it at Casa Morita but it seems to have disappeared from the menu, so here’s a homemade version! (This differs from the Spanish version made from chufa or tiger nut in the same way South and Central American Spanish varies from that spoken in Europe.)
Sometimes only chips will do. And after a Friday night that saw tvdinners and I literally drink Seven at Brixton dry of basil and ginger mojitos before giving Kaff Bar’s excellent £3 version a go, I not only needed chips. I needed turbo charged chips. It seemed like the moment my entire life had been wating for to try poutine…
For those of who wondering what kind of shenanigans that is, let me elaborate. Poutine is the unofficial dish of Canada, a religion in Québec, especially Montréal and known elsewhere as chips covered with gravy and cheese curds. It’s not pretty dish, but it’s a glorious mix of carbs, grease and fat best served piping hot and after alcohol has been consumed. A grown up gravy chip.
I’ve never seen it served here and it might seem like a right faff to go to, but luck and a certain amount of planning made it fairly straightfoward. The seemingly tricky bit is the cheese curds. I already had the rennet from previous cheesemaking exploits and have discovered that even the little Sainsburys in Brixton sells unhomogenised Jersey milk. So fresh they squeak cheese curds were only a few minutes away.
While the spuds for my chips parboiled, I scalded the milk, added the rennet and let the curds and whey develop. Dry the curds off in a cheesecloth or muslin and turn your attention to the chips. Having drained the chips, I couldn’t be bothered with all the stages Felicity Cloake suggests here and fried them for five minutes at lowish temperature, before draining on kitchen paper and allowing the oil to get really going.
I’d roasted a chicken earlier in the week and by some feat of willpower had the juices left to make gravy with. I thickened it up with cornflour and heated it up. I broke the curds up a bit more with a fork and let drain well before batch frying the chips til very golden. I personally loathe an anaemic chip so relished the opportunity to get these good and Ronseal brown in the hot fat.
At this point I cannot claim how authentic my poutine was. I dusted the chips with salt and pepper, poured the gravy over and then added the curds. I should have done the curds first and then the gravy to make sure the cheese melted more, but I was too hungry to be too bothered. I got stuck in.
And zut alors, I can see why the Quebecois love this dish so much. It’s simple, it’s tasty, it’s filling. It’s soft and crunchy at the same time and cries out to be eaten quickly and while piping hot. The cheese curds melt more like mozzarella than cottage cheese and add a creaminess. The squeak is a little bit like halloumi and the whole thing works like a charm. I loved it.
I’m entering poutine in the Hall of Fame of chip dishes immediately. You might be able to fiddle with it to make it veggie, but my advice is keep it simple and make a date with the dish as soon as you can. The Canadian embassy should start a poutine joint for post pub Saturday nights in the West End. It’d attract more people to visit Canada than all the maple leaves in the world…
I’m going to confess something. You’ll either nod sagely at my bravery or recoil in horror and never speak to me again. I’m just not that into cheese…
That’s not to say I don’t ever eat it. I’m partial to a nice slice of Jarlsberg (the holes make it taste better). I keep Parmesan in the house to add some extra umami to everything. And I’ll eat cheese at other people’s houses, but I never think to buy it and I never crave it. It just doesn’t tickle my fancy the same way a nice salami does. So I’m as surprised as you are that I made my own cheese last night.
My eye was caught by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s column in the Guardian the other week explaining that making certain types of cheese at home is a walk in the park. I imagine cheese to be a combination of dairy and witchcraft so this intrigued me. And then I happened to come across a bottle of rennet in Waitrose* the very next day and the spell was cast. I was going to make my own curd cheese!
It is ridiculously simple. You need some non-homogenised milk, some rennet, a pinch of salt and some muslin or ahem, cheesecloth and then you can get going with a few small pieces of attention to detail. You should be able to get non-homogenised milk at a Farmers’ Market but if you want to do raw or unpasteurised milk for whatever reason, then source yours through Duchy Originals at most major supermarkets or try some of the suggestions here. And while you’re at the supermarket, follow this excellent tip from the comments on the original article and pick up a pack of muslin squares from the baby aisle. Much larger than the trendy facecloths around, you’ll get about 5 for a fiver and can use them for cheese making or the forthcoming preserves season. Just iron before use to sterilise it.
I was using raw buffalo milk from Alham Wood Farms and I was surprised to see just how creamy it looked in colour and texture. Much more like the milk when I was a kid and most appetising looking. I heated it to 38° with the aid of a thermometer and then added the rennet. I think I used a touch too much, around a quarter of a teaspoon to a pint of milk, but a little bit extra splashed in so I suggest you measure carefully and not above the milk itself if your hand isn’t too steady. I stirred it in well and then left it for 15 minutes to separate into curds and whey while I got on with a batch of lemon curd.
And when I came back, it really was like magic. What had been thick creamy milk was now a slightly unappealing layer of watery liquid and something that did look quite cheese like already. I scooped the curds out with a slotted spoon into the muslin and tied onto the kitchen tap to drain and set for around three hours, dispensing with the whey completely. This is all you need to do. I won’t judge you though if like me you keep going in and staring at it as if hoping to catch a glimpse of the alchemy as it happens.
About three hours later, when I could wait no more, I unwrapped my little milky miracle. And it looked like real, honest to goodness cheese! Possibly a little bit firmer than it was meant to be due to the extra splash of rennet, it looked like cottage cheese with the firmness of mozzarella. I served it crumbled on some green lentils and homegrown tomatoes and it was stunning. Slightly bouncy, with a touch of saltiness while rich and creamy, it turned some placid pulses into something rather racy as it melted slightly and soaked up the juice from the tomatoes.
I couldn’t get over how delicious it was and how unlike the shop bought equivalent in flavour and depth. That’s probably the buffalo milk but I like to think it’s my natural cheesemaking skills. On an effort to taste ratio, it scores maximum points. I enjoyed it so much I had exactly the same dinner the next night as well and probably would have done so a third night had I not run out of cheese. Had I been able to get my hands on some more milk, I’d have made more and served it on my favourite black pepper infused crackers from Ryvita. I might even have remembered to photograph the meal instead of gorging myself. I think it’s safe to say I finally get the cheese obsession. I’ve come over the dark side of dairy…
*which happened to be vegetarian on closer inspection.
Oreos are the quintessiential American biscuit (or cookie), but since we Brits are fairly new to their ways and loyal to our impressive range of biscuits, we don’t usually get to experience the whole family of Oreo styles here such as Double Stuf or fudge covered without a plane ticket or friends coming over here. So imagine my glee when I discovered a recipe for homeamde Oreos and realised I could fulfil my yen for peppermint Oreos without increasing my carbon footprint or having go through airport security…
It took me a long while to get into the pleasures of coffee… but now I’m a convert to the helping hand that a freshly-made long cup of frothy caffeine can provide first thing in the morning.
It’s Friday, it’s the end of a long week, and I really needed that kick up the keister today. Some might consider it sacrilegious to adulterate coffee beans with chocolate, but for me a good mocha as a pre-breakfast drink is the perfect start to the day. Roll on the weekend…