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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Eat. . . Homemade halloumi and ricotta cheese

Knitapotamus' Adventures in Cheeseland - Part 3!!
Fried, sliced halloumi with ratatouille
So, having gained some confidence from successfully making feta and mozzarella cheese in the last few weeks, I turned my attention to Halloumi (or "squeaky cheese!) This is one of my all-time favourite cheeses, and a pretty expensive one, so I was really keen to try making it. The recipe I was following called for 10 litres of milk, but I don't yet have a pan big enough for that, so settled for 5 litres Wangapeka Dairy milk instead. One of the great things about halloumi, is that while the halloumi is pressing you can make ricotta cheese from the whey, so two cheeses for the price of one! Here's what happened. . .

Heat milk up to 32C, add veggie rennet and once curds have formed, cut them up then cook them at 38C
I think it's the cooking at 38C for half an hour that gets the firm but elastic (& squeaky!) texture.

Pile the cooked curds into a large feta/halloumi frame 
The feta/halloumi frame above was from Mapua Country Trading.

Press the halloumi for half an hour whilst making ricotta from the whey
Heat up the whey to around 90C, add salt and vinegar and gradually strain off ricotta
About 200g of ricotta cheese, after draining in a muslin-lined sieve
Meanwhile, back to the halloumi. As you can see, this is quite a process - the most involved cheese-making episode so far!

Unwrap the pressed halloumi and cut it into 8 or 10 pieces
Lower the blocks of halloumi into 85-90C whey, to cook for 30 mins.
All the blocks of halloumi are added to the whey to be cooked together. Now, I don't think this is necessarily supposed to happen, but I found that while the halloumi cooked, little bits of ricotta curds kept coming to the surface for me to strain off and add to the rest in the sieve. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the tiny bits of ricotta curd floating in the whey. . . and you can also see some little bits of ricotta stuck to the halloumi blocks in the next photo.

Cooked halloumi blocks
Sliced halloumi fried in a tiny bit of olive oil
Sonny Jim's favourite way to eat halloumi is fried and drizzled with sweet chilli sauce
I have to say that for $10 worth of milk (5 litres) we got a big result! 900 grammes of halloumi cheese, and 200g of ricotta. I checked the prices in the supermarket yesterday and the halloumi was $8.95 for a 100g block, ricotta $5.50 for an equivalent amount. In other words, it would have cost us around $86 to have bought that much cheese from the supermarket!! Not that we even buy halloumi more than once a year usually, I have to admit. Of course we can't (and arguably "shouldn't"!) eat 900g of halloumi in one sitting, but luckily it keeps well in the fridge in a whey/water/salt brine, and we are sharing it around a bit too. The (low fat) ricotta keeps well in an airtight box in the fridge for several days. But who would have thought that my cheese-making endeavours could actually save us that much money?!! At least that is my spin on it, my ploy to keep on making cheese - I'm enjoying the cheese-making so much, and somehow no matter how much I make we seem to manage to eat it all up :) 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thought for Thursday. . . Falling and rising again

Christchurch's Cathedral Square in happier times (Source: www.insearchofsimplicity.com)

Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
(Oliver Goldsmith)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Love. . . Christchurch, one year on.

Photo by Sam Sword, specifically for sharing (from Facebook)
Badge I wore today in recognition of those affected by CHCH earthquakes
"Arohanui CHCH" - my splash of knitted colour amongst the liquefaction grey in Christchurch, June 2011.
I thought I would say it with pictures again, as adequate words to describe today, or the last year, completely fail me. 

It has been a very emotional day right across the country. For my part I wore black and red today (and yesterday as I got the dates mixed up!) and went for some quiet time in the hospital chapel around the 12.51 pm time. Not that I am religious these days, but it just felt like the right place to be, somewhere to have an oasis of peace and quiet and thinking time. That included the 2 minute silence at 12.51 pm and I also lit a candle to remember all those affected by the quakes. A really emotional few minutes, and then I had to scuttle back to work and put the face of professionalism back on again. . . but Christchurch is not forgotten, any day of the year.

As for the 1000 Paper Cranes, I have them safely here, but it seems that King's Language School no longer exists, so I now have the conundrum of what to do with the cranes. Should I just send them all to a pre-school or school down in CHCH, or think about donating them to Japan instead, or some other solution? If you have any ideas, please leave me a comment. . . I know that so many people have put a lot of work into contributing these cranes (myself and family included), and I would love to know your ideas of what to do with them now that King's Language School seems to have disbanded. Thanks in advance.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Knit. . . Review of iPhone/iPad app "Yarn U"

Yarn U's opening screen (on my iPhone)
Recently I was given the opportunity to try out this iPhone/iPad app for free, in exchange for reviewing it on my blog. No problem, I thought. . . so here goes!

Quick tutorial (on my iPad)

Yarn U by Mary Beth Klatt
This is available from the iTunes store for NZ$4.19 and US$2.99. Not sure how much it costs in other iTunes stores worldwide. . . Basically it is described as an "On-the-go guide to yarn" and that pretty much sums it up. It is a pocket reference of around 260 yarns (number increasing with each update), and it is possible to browse the yarns freely, search for something specific or filter and sort the list yourself. You can quickly get to all yarns beginning with a particular letter by touching that letter in the alphabet down the right side of your screen.

Some of the yarns available in the database
Lets say I was interested in Noro Kureyon yarn (because, lets face it - I am!!) If I look up "Kureyon" in the yarn database, I am taken to Kureyon's summary page. . .

This gives a brief description of the yarn in headline style ("Classic wool in rainbow colours"), then some more details below. I like how this section is unashamedly subjective, sometimes quoting what particular knitters on ravelry have to say about the yarn, or what projects they have used it for. This page also has a task bar at the bottom, allowing me to comment on the yarn, mark it as a a favourite or email the yarn summary to myself or a friend.

Below, you can see a screenshot sharing ravelry Artlady's opinion of Kureyon's plus points, and telling us she used Kureyon to make a Bettna Cardigan. If you touch the link on your iPhone/iPad, you will immediately be taken to a photo of that item. Many yarns have links to suitable free patterns to knit or crochet with that particular yarn.

After the subjective opinion on the yarn comes what I think of as its "autobiographical details" - brand name, yarn weight, stitch gauge, fibre content and yardage, and an example price point. All those essentials you need to consider if you are thinking of using this yarn. Plus a few pros and cons, and often some comments from other "Yarn U" app-users for you to mull over.

The bottom line:
Overall, this is an app that does one thing, and does it really well. I can imagine it being very handy when trying to find the "perfect" yarn for a project, and I really like how it presents blatantly subjective opinion(s) on each yarn alongside the dry facts and figures. The photographs are something to really tempt anyone off their self-imposed Yarn Diet! 

However, I found it was strongly biased towards yarns that are available in the USA. Yes, I know it's the modern internet age and we can all buy things from worldwide online stores (if we can afford them!) But still, I would like to see some more familiar yarns added as time goes on. Would I buy the "Yarn U" app? Yes, definitely, once it has some more NZ, British and Australian yarns added to the database.

Thanks Mary Beth for the opportunity to review this app.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eat. . . Homemade mozzarella cheese

Mozzarella with its best mate, Tomato!  Drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and ground pepper. . . mmmmmm!

It seems to me that these recent "Eat" posts could reasonably be subtitled "Knitapotamus' Adventures in Cheeseland!" And so the adventures continue!

Last week I made mozzarella cheese. Not for the first time, but certainly the first time I got a result that looked anything like mozzarella! Did you see that photo up above? Looks like mozzarella, doesn't it?! Even tastes (um, I mean "tasted") like mozzarella! Not like the first lot, which put me off cheese-making for a whole year. That looked something like this:

But this. . . this was mozzarella to make my heart sing, and to believe that I am actually making progress with my goal to become proficient at making at least one cheese this year!

Here are a few photos to show you what happened to turn a load of incredibly creamy Wangapeka Downs milk into some delicious stretchy mozzarella cheese in around half an hour. . . But be warned, it is not the complete recipe, just enough to give you an idea of the process.

2 litres milk @ 31 C, plus 1/2 tsp veg rennet
40C, forming curds into a ball
60-70C, stretching 1/3 of hot curd ball to get mozzarella texture
Plunge stretched balls of mozzarella into icy water for cooling and storage
Slice up, add tomato, season with olive oil, salt & pepper and devour!
Cheese-making equipment from Mapua Country Trading, and mozzarella recipe from "Cutting the Curd - Cheese-making at home" book by Katherine Mowbray.

And guess what? Just when you thought you couldn't take any more cheesy adventures, tomorrow I plan to make halloumi for the first time ever. More on that soon ;-)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thought for Thursday. . . It DOES get better!

66% of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) teenagers experience bullying at school.
58% of them never report it, and half of them skip school as a result. 
LGBT teenagers are three times more likely than their "straight" friends to attempt suicide.
(Source = Diversity Role Models)

Something a little different today. A couple of links for you, sharing the recently released single "It does get better" performed by various British lesbian artists in order to raise awareness and funds to help combat homophobic bullying.

Please watch the video , and make sure you watch it right to the end. . . the photos of young people who have committed suicide due to homophobic bullying are just heart-breaking, and they come right at the end of the video. The Wifie, Sonny Jim and I all cried when we watched this for the first time.  If you are a member of any social networks like Facebook, Twitter etc, please share the video in order to spread the message. And think about buying the single or the EP from iTunes. Lyrics and vocal arrangement are here (scroll down a bit.)

The L Project, proudly supporting Stonewall and Diversity Role Models released this single on 11th February 2012 and all money raised will go towards this very worthy cause (which, as you can imagine, is very close to my heart.)

A couple of days later, on Facebook, the L Project team were asking people to send in their "inspiring photos" to be used for a photo-montage video to accompany the song. The link to that video is below:
Sharing the Love. . .

For those of you who know me personally, look out for the photo of the Wifie, Sonny Jim and me on our Civil Union day back in 2008. It totally made our day today, to know that we were featured in this video. The L Project got inundated with photos and apparently have enough to make about another 5 videos, but we made it into the first one, yay :)

Homophobic bullying not only affects those people who identify as LGBT, but all too often it affects their children and sometimes other family members as well. The fact that so many beautiful young people have felt so desperate due to bullying that they have taken their own lives is nothing short of tragic.

However, on a happier note the Wifie and I are just one example of those people who can stand up and say "It DOES get better!" Hopefully as this message spreads and homophobic bullying decreases, we will see more of these amazing LGBT teenagers make it into adulthood, and just imagine what a difference they could make. . . Our diversity is our strength.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Love. . . Photography

Mapua wharf, February 2011

Back when I was a teenager, a much older and wiser friend once told me "I take photographs because I can't paint." I have remembered that statement of his for all these years, even though he is no longer with us. . . I take photos for a variety of reasons, but yes, one of them is because I can't paint!

Even in the days of black and white or coloured film and large clunky cameras, photography was a relatively quick and easy way of preserving a memory or framing a scene, or zooming in to focus on one small detail. But so many shots were missed due to fretting about the cost of the film, or the price of getting it developed and the disappointment when only 3 or 4 out of the film of 24 photos were actually worth keeping!

I still remember my excitement at getting my first ever camera, for my 9th birthday. It was a Kodak Instamatic, it took big film cartridges, and used "flashbulbs" with 4 flashes each.

Me as a Brownie in Wales, aged 9 in 1980 (Photographer: L Waude)
From that I graduated to an old Zenith SLR that used to belong to my grandad. It was totally manual and each time you pressed the shutter release button the viewfinder blacked out until you "wound it on" again! Next was a Minolta SLR in my early twenties, and then a Canon SLR in my mid twenties. I held out against getting a digital camera in the early days as the photo quality was so grainy, but eventually in 2004 I joined the throng and got a digital Canon A80 "compact camera". Finally in December 2007 I got my current camera - a Canon EOS 400D digital SLR. And it is still going strong!

Since then there has been the cellphone camera revolution. No longer do most cellphones produce tiny grainy prints - the latest iPhone 4S has an integral 8 Mega-pixel camera, which takes better quality photos than many older cameras! As of January 2012, the Apple iPhone is now officially the world's most popular camera. As the following article reminds us, "The best camera is the one you have with you."

So, I use photography to capture a beautiful scene, because I don't have the skill to paint it. . .
Waimea estuary, 2012

to record various cooking and creative exploits
Sushi by Sonny Jim and friend, 2011

Modern Quilt Wrap
to remember a special moment,
Sonny Jim and me, 2001 (Photographer: D Rosie)
After our Civil Union, 2008 (Photographer: K D'Souza)
to record the not-so-great moments,
Sonny Jim with fractured tibial plateau, 22nd January 2011
to chronicle daring adventures. . .
Sonny Jim at Adrenalin Forest, Christchurch, early January 2011.
and to snap "funnies" wherever I see them :)
Auckland, April 2011
Christchurch, January 2011
And now, I am using photography for my latest project - a "photo-a-day" blog running from 29th January 2012 to 28th January 2013. You can find it here. The only rules I have set myself are that I have to take the photos myself, and that they must be taken on the date specified. My aim is to challenge myself to think more creatively and try to improve my photography skills. But I can't promise that the quality of the photos will always be high. . . especially given that more often than not, I have my cellphone with me rather than my digital SLR, and as we all know: "The best camera is the one you have with you!" But it will be a literal snapshot of a year in my life, and as such I hope it will occasionally be interesting, in amongst all the mundane stuff ;-)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Knit. . . Cross stitch scarf, monster vest and some socks

cross stitch scarf, made from a gorgeously soft merino/silk yarn which I acquired at one of our Nelson Yarn Swaps last year.  Modelled here by the Wifie. . .

I cast this on during our Tiki Tour down south, as I needed something nice and easy for the journey and campsite evenings. This really fit the bill as it is extremely simple and only has two different rows of pattern. . .

Next up, I managed to finish a Milo vest, which has to be one of the most versatile baby/children's patterns around. This time I embellished it with a monster, to match the rug in the recipient's bedroom. . .

Super cute, eh?!!!

Last up, I finally finished a pair of socks for my Grandad's very good friend, as a thank you for all he does for my Grandad. I have been working on them since before Christmas! Dull and utilitarian they might be, but hopefully just the thing for a man of over 80! Not that I am saying men over 80 are dull and utilitarian, you understand?! As a bit of interest I decided to try out a new heel construction method, using Cat Bordhi's sweet tomato heel. It is very different to the traditional heel flap I am used to with top-down socks, but was easy enough once I had got the idea, and certainly fits well.

Even better, it works with either toe-up or top-down socks, so may just become my go-to heel in future. . .

Working on a couple of other projects at the moment, including a secret project and a mystery knit-along shawl. More details on those soon. . .

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Eat. . . Homemade feta cheese

My first attempt at feta cheese
Having recently discovered the delights of Wangapeka Downs Dairy, I was excited to try making my first cheese. Well, at least my first successful cheese! There had been one ill-fated attempt in January 2011 when I tried to make mozzarella but failed dismally, but the less said about that the better!

So I ordered some full cream raw milk from Wangapeka, and with some trepidation started to make my first ever feta cheese. I used the recipe in my cheese-making kit from Mapua Country Store, and it was surprisingly easy to produce perfectly edible results first time! I will show you what happened. . .

Milk heated to 31C, then culture and vegetarian rennet added, and left to form curds and whey.

Cutting the curds
Breaking the curds into "pea-sized" pieces
Preparing the feta mold
Packing the curds into the feta mold
Pressing the block of feta with a jar full of water - 8 hours each side
Unwrapping the block of pressed feta from the muslin
Sprinkling with salt to "cure" the cheese (I slightly over-did the salt quantities this time)
The finished feta cheese - firm, crumbly and salty, just like it should be!
For a first attempt, I think this feta cheese turned out remarkably well - I could hardly believe that it looked and tasted "just like the real thing!" However, it was just a little too salty for my tastes, so for the following week's batch I used a different technique for curing (rubbing in rather than sprinkling) and less salt in total, and was even happier with the results.

This is just the beginning of my adventures with cheese-making. I have my sights set on halloumi and ricotta next, then possibly another try at mozzarella, or a dalliance with mascarpone, hopefully building up to brie and Cheddar. Watch this space!!