Cooking with curds

Alessandra Zecchini writes, amongst other things, a New Zealand blog that is full of food that I want to cook. My recipe for haloumi came from her site. Recently, I saw that she had started a monthly blogging event called Sweet New Zealand, which is for kiwi bloggers cooking sweet things, and it made me think that I’d like to be involved in something like that, only with cheese.

So I’ve decided to start doing a monthly post of cheese-related recipes. I’d love others to take part too – so if anyone else happens to be keen, let me know (360degreescheese(at) and we can start posting a collection each month. Admittedly, it might end up just being me but if anyone else has old or new posts where cheese is a key ingredient, send me a link and I’ll put them together into  single post – like a recipe log of cheese that can be shared.

To start, I made these blue cheese and walnut shortbread. The recipe comes from Leite’s Culinaria and it seemed like a good use for the large chunks of blue cheese that I had in my fridge. We had a few the other night with a 2004 Rioja, and the combination brought out the pepper in the biscuits and the spice in the wine; a goodway to spend a wet and cold evening at home.

Blue cheese and walnut shortbread ( via Leite’s Culineria)

Take around 110 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature (I had only slightly salted butter, so used that and left out the extra salt I mention below) and around 250-300g of blue cheese, crumbled. Put these in a bowl and cream together with a wooden spoon until it is a smoothish paste (you could also use a food processor but I don’t have one).

Get 1.5 cups of plain flour and mix with 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 1/2-1 teaspoon salt (if using). Add some of this dry mixture to the cheese/butter paste and mix with a wooden spoon in a fast (but light) chopping motion and keep adding more flour the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs. (The ‘fast-light’ chopping motion might sound odd, but  I found dashing the spoon through the mixture meant it didn’t clump together and let the large bits break up).

At this point, take 1/4 cup of walnuts and chop/pound/break them up into small bits. Put aside.

Add 1 tablespoon cold water and mix until the dough comes together. Put the dough onto a floured work surface and roll it into a log that is about 3-4 cm wide in diameter. Brush it with a lightly beaten egg and roll it in the chopped walnuts so that they cover the length of the log. Finally wrap it in cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Once you are nearly ready to cook the biscuits, pre-heat the oven to 175C (the recipe says 176C but my oven is nowhere near that precise!) and cover a lightly-greased flat baking tray in baking paper. Remove the log from the fridge and cut it into1-1.5cm rounds. Place these on the baking tray and cook for 20-22 minutes. You want them to be all golden, so check them around 10 minutes or so, and spin the baking tray around. Once they are ready, remove and let them cool. Eat!

Homemade vegetable ash

When I decided to make goats cheese on the weekend, I didn’t let the first set of curds sit for long enough, so they didn’t coagulate properly and I managed to break them up too much when I tried to scoop them, so I needed to start again.

As I needed to wait for a further 12-16 hours, I had some time on my hands, so decided to make some ash for coating the cheese. There are numerous posts out there on the various methods for making ash online, ranging from very specific scientific devices, through to the use of clean paint cans. I went for a much more simple approach.

I sliced 2 carrots and separated out the leaves of 2 onion, placed them on a foiled tray and burnt them under a hot grill until they were black – this worked well, other than the fact I kept setting off our fire alarm, with apologies to my neighbour downstairs. After burning on both sides, I put the charred vegetables into a 100C oven and slowly completely dehydrated them over the next 8-10hours.

After they cooled, I packed them in an airtight container overnight and then pummeled them with our our mortar and pestle, along with a good amount of sea salt. I ground the ash as fine as possible, and hope to put some on my cheese tonight.

Empanada gallega de bonito (tuna empanada)

I mostly take my lunch to work, but on days that I don’t, I wish I could walk out of the office and find a bakery that sells the large, fresh empanadas we ate all over Galicia. I always thought empanadas were like Cornish pastries, but I found a whole new kind in Galicia. Gallegan empanadas are large square or circular pastries stuffed full of fish or meat fillings – these are cut into slices,  weighed and mostly taken home for consumption.  Sometimes, we arrived just in time to get them fresh from the oven…and the next moment we would be scraping the last fallen bits of pastry from the paper bag. My favourites were bonito (tuna) and bacalao (salted cod), mixed with tomato, soft thinly sliced peppers, olives and even plump raisins.

This is a really easy dish and good for cold winter nights. The following recipe makes easily enough for 4 people with leftovers for lunch.

Empananda gallega de bonito (based on a recipe on cooking up a storm)


  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 3.5 cups plain flour
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • pinch salt

Place yeast in 2/3 cups of warm water and sit covered for 10 minutes. Pour yeast and water into a large bowl, add in egg, oil, butter and salt and whisk together.

Once combined, add in flour, one cup at a time and fold into a solid dough, collecting all the flour around the edges. Form into a ball.

Flour a clean surface, place the ball on dough on it and knead for around 5 minutes. Add extra flour if the dough is too sticky or is sticking to the kneading surface.

After 5 minutes, you should have  shiny, quite un-sticky dough. Break it into 2 balls, place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave for 20 minutes or longer (it won’t rise much by the way) . I left mine for the whole time I was making the filling.


  • Olive oil for frying
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 3-4 peppers, finely sliced (is nice to use a mix of colours, for both appearance and flavour – I used 3 small red and 1 small green)
  • 2 small tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • pinch of saffron,pulverised and soaked in 2 tablespoons of very hot water (optional)
  • 400g tuna
  • small bunch of parsley
  • olives, deseeded and chopped (I used kalamata but any good olives could work)
  • 1 beaten egg and dash of milk for brushing on final empanada

Pour oil into  a fry pan over medium heat and add in  garlic. Cook it for 1-2 minutes, browning it but not burning. Then add in onion, and salt, pepper to taste and cook until soft and translucent.

Add pepper slices and a little more oil if needed and cook for around 8-9 minutes. Then reduce heat to low, cover and cook till very soft, around 10-15 minutes. Add in paprika, saffron, and tomato, recover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes more, stirring occasionally.Take off the heat and let cool.

Once cool, add in tuna and parsley.Pre-heat the over to 190C.

To prepare the empanada, oil a large baking tray with olive oil. Roll out the first ball of dough on a lightly floured surface using a floured rolling pin (or in my case, a floured wine bottle). Roll the dough into a thin rectangle that will overhang the baking tray on all sides. It should be quite thin.

Place the rolled out dough into the tray, place the filling on top and then sprinkle olives over the tuna mixture. Roll out the second ball into a smaller rectangle, place on top, folding the overhanging bits of the first sheet over to form a solid join at the edges. Brush on egg and milk mixture and place in oven. I’m quite hopeless at following recipes precisely and forgot to put slits in the top of mine to let steam escape. It still worked, but I might try slits next time.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning down the oven a bit if it looks like its getting burnt on top. Once golden, remove from the oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Baked mascarpone cheesecake with a ginger crust

I’m not sure if the Sara Lee brand exists in the UK or only in Australia. Maybe it does and I haven’t noticed, but Sara Lee individual frozen cheesecakes are my very first memory of cheesecake. Still frozen, like cold cupcakes, a package of four baby cheesecakes sitting in the kitchen would make me quickly eat my broccoli  and not have seconds of mince and stovies (for those without a Scottish grandmother, stovies is a potatoes and onion dish that we used to have with a mince and carrot stew). Along with Nutella, the mini cheesecakes were only available at my grandmother’s house; my very healthy parents (quite wisely in retrospect) didn’t let us have these things at home.

I have to confess that I’ve never made a cheesecake myself before but Harley’s sister’s birthday was today, so thought this was a good reason to try – plus I needed an excuse to try and make mascarpone. I worked from home on Friday, so could make the cheese that morning, let it set all day and night, and have it ready to use for Saturday’s cooking. This is what I love about cheese making – I get to make the cheese and then find things to cook that call for them.

The cake is based on a baked mascarpone cheesecake recipe by Eat Blog Sleep.  I did make a couple of changes to the recipe – including using 400g of ginger biscuits instead of 250g of shortbread (I found 250g wasn’t enough for my tin – although this could be because I didn’t make my crumbs fine enough – and I wanted a light lemon/ginger flavour combination),  I also used 450g mascarpone and 200g cream cheese (mainly because of how much mascarpone I made) instead of the ratios in the recipe, and added in 4 whites rather than 3 – my mixture wasn’t super firm and I didn’t want to waste the white. The cake didn’t taste eggy at all (something I really dislike in a cheesecake), so this last bit seemed to be an ok modification.

It’s creamy, soft with a solid biscuit crust that is just the right hardness –  you need to put some pressure with your spoon on the outside and then, crack, you hit the plate and get a whole lot of bite size chunks to chew on with the cheese and tart strawberries halves  – I don’t think the leftovers will last very long in our fridge. If I made it again, I  would probably use slightly less butter in the crust as it was a bit too buttery for my liking, although Harley’s sister disagreed, so maybe it’s just me.

Battle Royale rosemary foccacia

When I  moved to London in January last year, I needed to take up some form of sport. I  originally thought I’d take up football or rock climbing but it wasn’t to be. Instead, on a evening that involved a lot of food and too much wine, a friend’s girlfriend mentioned she played roller derby. What is roller derby? I didn’t know  but I still ended up at a training session a week later and put on skates for the first time in 20 years (an embarrassing and slightly scary experience). I now spend far too much of my week now skating in circles and throwing myself across the track. If you are interested, roller derby is an all women, full contact team sport on roller skates – it is really big in the US, and is growing fast in the UK,  in Australia and in lots of other countries.

Anyway, some of my team mates played as part of the UK Allstars team at Battle Royale in Windsor last night – they were amazing but sadly didn’t win.  Given it has rained all weekend (so no picnic today), I made the rosemary foccacia I keep talking about to take along as a beer snack. The recipe is from the Guardian magazine and I’ve been wanting to make it so I can use the rosemary from my garden – plus it just sounded really tasty.

It was crisp and firm on the outside, soft on the inside and not too oily  – so made me happy. The only issue was I put a bit too much salt on top, so needed to knock a few rocks off. I had roller derby training tonight, so ate the last bit when I got home for dinner topped with some melted mozzarella, which I made this morning.

maybe I should stick to eating

The problem I regularly face is that much as I love food and love cooking, I am not very good at cooking. I have aspirations far above my skills, which tends to result in food that is good in theory (at least my theory) but not in what eventuates. I’m also a pretty careless cook…as last nights cheese efforts demonstrate.

On the upside, my chevre  was salvageable (although by no means brilliant). After draining all day while I was at work, it’s now pretty much a ricotta or cottage cheese consistency, which matches with my cheese making books description, so that’s good. Here is the final product:

I had grand visions of using it in our dinner tonight – which I did – in an eggplant, leek and goats cheese tart. I thought this sounded like a good combination, brought together two of my favourite vegetables, and included a bit of rosemary from my garden but it just didn’t quite work. It looked pretty but it just was missing the right flavours – too heavy and not enough grunt.

Maybe some rocket and tomato at the end might have lifted it a bit – I’ve got my last few tomatoes still coming from the garden, so I might try and see if that helps with the remaining piece. I should probably stick to recipes really for the moment.

In good eating news, although I wasn’t organised enough to get a booking for Hel Yes (a finnish pop-up restaurant that is part of the London Design Festival), Harley and I are  heading to Ben Greeno’s Tudor Rd supperclub in a couple of weeks. I’m really looking forward to it, as by all accounts the food is fantastic.  I just need to make sure and get a couple of bottles of nice wine to take along.

Overcooked chevre

If someone would pay me to do anything I’d run film festivals or I’d be a cheesemaker. The first is really not going to happen at this point in my life, and based on tonight’s effort, the second is also seeming pretty unlikely – I might better off sticking to just eating cheese.

I’m trying to make at least one new thing each week, so tonight I tried to make chevre . This should have been really easy – as other than making simple soft cheese, its really the easiest cheese to make. But, I managed  to overheat the milk by about 10 degrees  and have probably now wasted about 4 litres of goats milk. Given its 9pm, I can’t really be bothered heading back to Tesco, so I’m going for the more experimental approach of cooling it down and adding in the starter culture anyway.  I suspect it’ll be a disaster but I may as well try and in 12 hours or so I’ll see if any cheese has emerged. I’ll put some photos up tomorrow if I have any success – otherwise, it’ll be a new batch over the weekend. I also want to try making rosemary focaccia this weekend if I’m not in Devon surfing, so maybe the cheese is just waiting for the bread.