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Curry leaf muffins March 24, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Cheese, Recipes, Vegetables.
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I have invoked the ‘relapse’ tag.

Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe’s assistant, states that when Nero Wolfe has a relapse he is suddenly not interested in his detective work any more, and instead retires to the kitchen to dream up strange and unusual meal experiments with Fritz. Archie is sent all over New York to chase up odd ingredients, and dinner becomes a gamble – sometimes it is sublime and other times, it is inedible.

I can’t say I fell into full relapse mode but I came up with this idea going home one day, and decided to see how it would turn out. On a whim, I had purchased some curry leaves from a store near where I work. I’d made a couple of curries but still had quite a few leaves left. Then it struck me: why not make curry leaf muffins? It couldn’t be much different from other savoury muffins, right? I mentioned my idea to H when I got home and he seemed a little skeptical, and perhaps not as enthusiastic as I was expecting….I didn’t think they sounded too crazy!

I started by once again looking up my trusty Ratio app. I only had 1 cup of milk left so I adjusted the ratio to suit. The recipe said to combine all the dry ingredients, and all the wet ingredients, and then mix them together. I started with the wet ingredients: melted butter which I let cool a little bit, milk, eggs, cubed pieces of feta cheese, and grated pumpkin. Doesn’t it just look delicious so far?

Next I prepared my dry ingredients: flour, spices (cumin, cayenne pepper, normal pepper, mustard seeds), and of course the curry leaves.

I chopped the curry leaves up fairly fine, and mixed them in with the flour. Then, I took the wet ingredients and tipped them into the dry ingredients. It didn’t need much mixing to bring it all together, and I spooned the mixture into my muffin tin.

I baked them in a 180°C oven for about 20 minutes. Here was the result when they came out:

And as for the taste: this was definitely a positive relapse, instead of a negative relapse! The curry flavour came through nicely but was not overwhelming. It was nice getting a mustard seed every now and again, and the feta added a nice tartness to the muffin. The pumpkin tied it all together. I hope my next relapse into inventing of strange combinations goes as well as this one did!

Now this is a bit self indulgent of me but I decided write up a semi-proper recipe of this creation – this is mainly so I can find it again but since it is a slightly odd combination maybe others will be interested too. Just be warned it may lead further down the ‘relapse’ path – while I and Nero Wolfe will be proud of you, the people in your life may not fully understand…

For 12 large-ish muffins, you will need:

250g self raising flour
250ml milk
2 eggs
125 g butter
15-20 curry leaves (to taste – mine were fairly mild)
100g feta cheese, chopped into small cubes
100g grated pumpkin (sweet potato would probably work too)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (again to taste, depending on how spicy you want it)
A few grinds of pepper
(If you wish, you could also add a small amount of curry powder as well).

To make them:

Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Melt the butter, and let it cool slightly so it is still runny but not boiling hot. Add the milk. Slightly beat the eggs and add them to the butter mix. Chop your feta and grate your pumpkin and add them to the butter mix. Stir it all a few times to combine.

In another bowl, mix together the flour and the cumin, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper, pepper (and curry powder if using). Take the curry leaves and chop them fairly finely. Add them to the flour mixture.

Take your butter mix and tip the whole lot into the flour mixture. Stir until they both combine. Spoon into muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes. You could also make it in a loaf tin and do a kind of curry bread-thing.

Serve to your friends and loved ones, and watch while they think you’re completely mad.

Cheesemaking part 2: Mozzarella March 6, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Cheese.

Bolstered by my success in making the goat’s milk cheese, I decided to try my hand at making mozzarella. After all, Nero Wolfe rarely only eats one cheese, and often has 2 or 3 different cheeses on a platter at once! I read the recipe for mozzarella cheese here. The recipe there is for 1 gallon of milk, which I downsized to about 1/3 of the original recipe, for 1 litre of milk. It seemed fairly straightforward – curdle the milk, add rennet, drain, knead and then ta-daa – cheese! Well it didn’t quite work out as smoothly like that, but it did work out in the end.

A note about rennet

Traditionally, rennet is made from enzymes found in a cow’s stomach, and is a key ingredient in many cheeses, including mozzarella. These days, a synthetic rennet enzyme is also available (generally sold as ‘vegetarian rennet’), but both act in the same way – as a coagulant for the milk, allowing firming and hardening of the curds to occur. Regardless of if it’s natural or synthetic rennet, it must be live enzyme for it to be effective, and this means that most places will not stock it. My quick phoning around specialty food stores in Melbourne (Essential Ingredient, Simon Johnson, etc) revealed that none of them stocked rennet, or knew where I could get some. After doing a bit of searching online, I found Cheeselinks, which sells all kinds of cheese making products online – and luckily for me, is located near Geelong (Victoria), meaning it’s not a long shipping time to me in Melbourne. I have put in an order for some rennet and it should be in the mail, but in the meantime I was determined to make mozzarella.

In my online search to find rennet, I had read that junket could be used as a substitute to rennet since its primary ingredient is rennet. For those who don’t know what junket is (I didn’t before I started looking!), it is/was used to make puddings and desserts, as it quickly thickens milk with no refrigeration needed. Although the internet told me that junket was hard to find in Melbourne, I discovered that my local Coles supermarket stocks it! They are in little packets of 12 tablets, in the same area as the instant puddings and jelly. I decided to use the junket and see if it was indeed possible to make mozzarella with it.

Back to the recipe

First of all, I wasn’t sure which milk to use. In the end, I used an unhomogenised organic milk again found in my local supermarket.

I don’t know whether the unhomogenised milk was necessary (other posts I’ve read have stated that you can use homogenised milk with no problems) but you do want to make sure it’s pasteurised, not ultra-pasteurised…. I tried to use ultra-pasteurised milk the first time because that’s what I had in the house, and this is what happens if you try and use ultra-pasteurised milk:

You might be looking at that photo thinking “well there’s not a lot to see here” – and you’d be right. This is *meant* to be curdled, coagulated milk, with the curds and the whey neatly separated. Instead, it’s….weird not-really-separated milk. I started again with the milk in the carton pictured above.

To prepare making the mozzarella, I started with adding a small amount of citric acid (1/2 teaspoon diluted in 1/3 cup of water for 1 litre of milk) while the milk was still cold, and then slowly heating the milk to 90°F (32°C). The recipe next instructed to add 1/4 teaspoon of rennet diluted in 1/4 cup of water. I used 2 tablets of junket, which I crushed up with some water before pouring it in. I then took it off the heat, and left it for 5 minutes to allow the curds to coagulate.

It (mostly) worked! While my curds didn’t look as set as the ones in the picture, I could see the whey clearly separated from the curds, and when I pulled on the edge of the curds, they came apart from the pan while staying together. I cut the curds up into pieces and began reheating back up to 105°F (41.5°C).

It didn’t take long to reach the right temperature, and then I once again took it off the heat and stirred it slowly for a few minutes. I used a soup ladle to transfer the curds to a colander, to help the whey drain further.

I pressed the curds to drain the why further, and transferred them to a bowl. Then I forgot that I was making 1/3 of the recipe I was following, and dutifully microwaved my curds for 1 minute as per the recipe. This was the result:

Yeah….that didn’t look right. This is what happens when you overheat milk curds! If you’re keeping count, I was now up to version 3 of this cheese! However, I persisted, remade the next batch of milk, added the junket, drained the curds, and this time only heated it in 10 second bursts in the microwave, until the cheese was 135°F (57°C). Then it was time to knead!

When I started to knead the cheese, it was quite “grainy” and I could feel the texture as I kneaded. I kept kneading, microwaving the cheese when it got cooler. I’m not sure if it was because my curds didn’t coagulate as much as the one in the recipe, or because of something else – or if it’s meant to happen – but the cheese continued to leave a milky residue as I kneaded. Here’s a pic of a half-kneaded cheese:

After I’d kneaded it for a while (10 minutes at the most), I started testing it to see how much it would stretch. At first it continued to break instead of stretching, but after a bit of time, it began to stretch…and stretch….

I kneaded it for a bit longer and then shaped it into a ball. I dunked the ball into cold water, which set the cheese. Here’s a picture of the end result:

Again if you’re interested in yield, I got about 90 grams of cheese from 1 litre of milk. As for the taste: it tasted like mozzarella! It was creamy and smooth, not sharp at all, and it melted well. I am intending to make this again once my rennet arrives, as hopefully this will make the process a bit easier. As with the goat’s milk cheese, the main problem is that I need more of it!

Cheesemaking is not mentioned in the Nero Wolfe books as something that Fritz does often, although he does help source appropriate cheeses for Wolfe and supervises the production of other cheeses. However I do tend to think that these kind of cheeses (mozzarella and goat’s milk soft cheese) are something Fritz may well make regularly – if I can do it, there’s no reason he couldn’t, and probably with a great more skill than I have. I like the idea of Fritz making cheese in the Brownstone, with Wolfe looking over his shoulder and telling him to knead it more, or add some more flavourings!

Blessed are the cheesemakers February 28, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Cheese.

Nero Wolfe certainly likes his cheese. While it seems from the books that Fritz rarely prepares his own cheese on site, Fritz certainly does supervise the making of other cheeses to Wolfe’s specifications, and assists in the selection of cheeses for eating at the Brownstone.

I’d read about making goat’s milk cheese both on Serious Eats and Kiss My Spatula, and decided to attempt it myself. I used the recipe outlined on Kiss My Spatula, modified slightly to accommodate the litre of milk I used. The recipe calls for 1 quart of milk, and 1 litre is just under 1 quart. Since I had slightly less milk, I put in slightly less lemon juice too.

I found goat’s milk at my local supermarket – there was only one brand to choose from but I assume it is fairly widely available. Here’s a picture of the milk I used – I liked the smiley goat on the container:

From what I’ve read, the best (supermarket) milks to use are ones which have not been ultra pasteurised. I started by pouring the cold milk into a saucepan and heating it gently until it reached 82 degrees celsius (180 degrees fahrenheit). The recipe recommends using a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the milk. I didn’t have a candy thermometer so I used my meat thermometer instead – I just balanced it on the edge of the saucepan.

It took a bit of time to heat up but not enough that I could go off and do other things – maybe about 10 minutes. As the milk neared 82 degrees it started forming a kind of skin on its surface.

When it had reached the magic number of 82 (or 180, depending on which system you’re using), I took it off the heat and poured in just under 1/4 cup of lemon juice. This was the equivalent of about 1 1/2 lemons (although one of the lemons I used was very juicy). It started to curdle almost immediately. Both Serious Eats and Kiss My Spatula warn that you shouldn’t wait for big curds to form – instead, you should see some slight separation and that’s it. Here’s a picture of what mine looked like after I’d added the lemon juice, although I don’t know if it shows the curdling very clearly…

I had pre-prepared my drip system which consisted of a large bowl with a colander in it, and 4 layers of cheesecloth. I got my cheesecloth from Spotlight, where, if I am being accurate, it was described as “cheesecloth-like” fabric, with cheesecloth itself being unavailable. In retrospect I probably didn’t have to use all 4 layers – 2 or 3 would have done the trick – but I was diligently following recipes and instructions, where they stated it was better to use 4.

I ladled the milk mixture carefully into the cheesecloth-covered colander, making sure the fabric didn’t fall into the mixture.

Then I pulled up all the edges, tied the bundle together with twine, and tied it to a spoon suspended over the colander so that the whey could drip out.

Then I ignored it for about an hour – even though I didn’t want to. I could hear it dripping into the bowl during this time, and I was surprised at the amount of whey. I was too impatient to wait more than about an hour – the recipes all state you should leave it for between 1 and 1 1/2 hours and I was definitely on the shorter side of that! Here’s what it looked like when I unwrapped it and turned it out into a bowl.

Cheese! Wow! Who would have thought this was possible. I tasted it, of course. It was really creamy with a mild bite – it was obvious there was acid in there but it certainly wasn’t sharp at all – and it was very smooth. I mixed in some flavourings of salt and pepper, basil and garlic. The recipes called for adding raw garlic to the cheese, but I thought the garlic would overpower the subtle taste of the cheese. I ended up crushing a garlic clove and putting some of the juice that came out in the cheese, rather than the garlic itself. And here’s the end result:

If you’re interested in quantities, I’d say out of a litre of milk I got about 1/2 a cup of cheese.

The flavour definitely became more interesting with the addition of the spices and garlic, while still retaining the natural taste of the cheese and the overall texture. It was really soft cheese (great for spreading on bread) and to be honest I could have let it drain for a few more minutes to firm it up a bit. That being said, I was pretty happy with my first foray into cheese making! I’m not sure if it would be up to Nero Wolfe’s standards as it’s not the most complex cheese, but maybe Fritz could use it to help flavour a sauce, or something.

Next time I want to experiment with different acids (vinegar is meant to give a more acidic and sharper flavour than the lemon juice, for example), and different combinations of spices. And different types of cheeses too, although that will require more work…

An un-Nero Wolfe Christmas, part 1 December 30, 2009

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Cheese, Drinks.
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(Part 2 can be found here, and Part 3 here)

“Christmas – an excuse for wretched excess aptly symbolized by an elephantine elf who delivers gifts to the whole world in one night.” — Nero Wolfe in A Christmas Party (part of the And Four to Go collection of short stories).

So Nero Wolfe is determined to be grinchy over the Christmas period – despite Fritz and Archie willing to put on a good show. I, too, have had my share of grinchy moments over this Christmas. And while I agree in theory with Wolfe’s sentiments about Christmas being an excuse for excess, it’s also a great opportunity to get into the kitchen and do some cooking not normally attempted.

As in previous years, my partner H and I got the family stuff over early in the morning and were back at our place by 11 to begin the great cooking adventure.

We started with some Champagne cocktails – Champagne, passionfruit, and brandy. I froze the passionfruit pulp and juice into icecube trays the day before. While we were sipping on these I got to work on the appetizer – otherwise known as something for us to nibble on in case the later courses got ‘delayed’ (not that that would EVER happen of course…).

I made an appetizer of baked camembert. It sounds simple. It was simple! It tasted absolutely wonderful. First I put some red wine, cloves, sugar and a cinnamon stick into a saucepan to let the wine become infused with the flavours. Next, I prepared the camembert by pricking it all over to let the wine seep in. Then I strained the wine (to remove the cloves and cinnamon stick) and poured it over the cheese, and baked it for 10 minutes on 200 degrees celsius.

OK I’ll admit it: I just wanted to scoop that whole thing out of the pan and eat it on the spot. But being the generous and sharing person that I am – and mindful of the fact that there were many courses to come – I refrained, and served it with crackers on a plate I’d received that morning as part of my Christmas swag:

This cheese was delicious! We gobbled the whole thing down in about 10 minutes, I reckon. I’ve already bought another cheese to do this again. I’d love to try this with a mild blue cheese to give a bit more ‘bite’ to the dish but I’m unsure how that would work in the oven – I think the cheese would just melt all over the place.

(I also served dips and olives for us to snack on but I didn’t make them and didn’t take any photos of them!)

Onto Part 2 – Ham and veggies!

Skip to Part 3 – Dessert!