Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Mushroom time

Several mushroomy things are coming up so here's a mushroomy article to go with them.

First off is a plug for John Wright's new book which will be released on Monday 3rd September and is called the River Cottage Mushroom Handbook. There will be a pullout and extracts from his book in the Guardian on Saturday. John's also in the process of setting up his new fungus website so check that out as well.

Second, it's porcini time at Tentsmuir. Fabrizio has sent the signal, it's time for hunting! It's going to be a busy few weeks, but hopefully there will be time to get down there before they all go. I came across a surprise package of porcini in the freezer the other day, I thought they were long gone, so I can now happily tuck into it in the knowledge that we should be harvesting a fresh batch soon. For now, here's a picture of some Alberto gathered last year - he filled an entire backpacking rucksack on that day, mushroom monster.

Monday, 27 August 2007

West Coast Weekend

Just back from a lovely weekend trip to the west coast with some of the lab bods. We set off on Friday afternoon and met up with Peter in Inverness for a tesco stop and pizza hut session before continuing all the way up to Stoer on the noth-west coast. It's just north of Lochinver, more or less directly opposite where Stornoway faces the mainland from the Hebrides. It was quite an exciting drive down all the twisty country roads in the dark, not knowing what kind of scenery we'd be waking up to in the morning, and the final few miles of hilly single track through the rocks was especially fun. I'll add a link on the side panel to more photos once I've put together a good collection.

We had a fairly leisurely start on Saturday, then went for a walk from Lochinver to Kirkaig falls for lunch. There was time for a quick kite flying outing on the beach just down the road from Kirsty's parents house in Stoer when we got back, then off out again for dinner at the Lochinver Larder. And very excellent it was too! They are famous for their pies, which were also being sold for takeaway - their website has a mail order form which I think we might be making use of at some point.

I decided to have some non-veggie stuff since we could practically see where the fish had been landed just a few meters down the road in the harbour, and they were only selling locally caught fish with availability depending on what was landed that day. I was pleased with all this blurb on the menu, so decided to go for creel-caught langoustines with chilli jam, and then a smoked haddock pie. They were both really really tasty, as was the huge portion of home made baked cheesecake that very nearly defeated me. We all rolled back up the hill groaning and very full indeed.

Yesterday we began to head back in the direction of home, but not without a quick stop at the Lochinver Larder again to stock up on pies for tea. We had a nice lunchstop in a layby overlooking Ardvrick Castle which is on a little island in Loch Assynt, and then scrambled up the a bit of a hill to get a higher viewpoint. Our final stop was in Aviemore where we got some chips to go with our pies, and scoffed them whilst listening to a rock gig played out the back of a lorry to a bunch of Harley Davidson bikers at a get together in the next-door hotel carpark - very bizarre! This time I had a cheese, leek and potato one which was also very tasty, but probably would have been even better after being warmed up in the oven. Whilst writing this I've just polished off my final pie for lunch today - apple and blackcurrant.

So from one end of the country to another - the top L arrow is pointing to Stoer where we were yesterday, the middle R one is Dundee, where I'm spending a few days in limbo and trying to pack again, then on Sunday it's River Cottage time and I'll be on the move again all the way down to near Lyme Regis right at the other end of the country. Very excited! I'm going to be camping at Hook Farm which looks very nice, fingers crossed for dry weather to pitch the tent in. And I've got a long train journey to get plenty of knitting done too.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Bella pasta

Continuing my blog-splurge for today, I finally got a chanch to have a go at using Aldo Zilli's Chitarra for cutting pasta. It's certainly a much easier way of cutting thin strips than using the cutters on the pasta machine. I've never had much success with this part of it, and usually make strips by rolling up the pasta sheets and cutting them into strips by hand. This is a good method for fatter types of pasta, but anything thinner than tagliatele gets too fiddly. I haven't done a pasta post yet though so I'l start at the beginning...

Pasta Dough

400g '00' grade plain flour (extra fine)
4 large eggs

Heap the flour onto a large clean worksurface and break the eggs into a well in the centre.

Using your fingers gently draw the flour in to the egg mixture (being careful to maintain the boundary walls!) until all the liquid is mixed in.

Knead for 5-10mins until the dough is smooth and slightly elastic: it will be less stretchy than bread dough however.

Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30mins.

Flavoured dough

Other bits and pieces can be added to the dough to give flavour/colour. You'll probably need to cut down on the egg and/or add more flour for the wetter additions, as long as the eventual texture is similar to plain dough it should work. Some examples:

Sun dried tomato paste

Pureed spinach or beetroot

Herbs and/or garlic

lemon zest and fine ground black pepper

Shaping the dough

The pasta dough can be rolled by hand with a rolling pin, but you'll get much smoother and quicker results using a pasta machine. The machine has two rollers that press the pasta between them when the handle is turned. A dial on the side controls the width of the gap between the rollers. Divide the dough into quarters, and re-wrap all except the one that is being worked on.

Shape by hand into a rough oblong sort of shape, and pass through the machine on the widest setting. Fold dough in half lengthways and pass through on this setting a couple of times.
Pass the dough through the machine once more on each width setting in sequence, until it is the required thickness. I find that I need to cut the sheet in half after around 3 passes so that it doesn't get too long to deal with easily.

My machine goes right up to level 9, but I tend to stop at 5-6 becuase it's already getting very thin by that point. The dough is quite strong even when it's very thin, as long as you handle it by hanging the strip over your hand rather than poking fingers through it.

If you're making lasagne sheets then there's nothing more to be done, but for other shapes the dough can now be cut into strips or put through a mould for filled pasta. There are some pics of our last filled pasta making session on Murphy's Mumblings - we did 3 types that day: spinach/ricotta, 4cheese/sundried tomato, and squash/walnut/parmesan.

Anyway, this time we wanted to test out Zilli's chitarra. It's basically a wooden box with wires strung across it (spaced at different widths on each side). You lay a sheet of pasta on top, roll over it to press it through the strings, and the pasta strips drop through into the box.

Filled pasta can be frozen, and the unfilled stuff can be left to dry overnight and stored in plastic boxes. It still takes a lot less time to cook than bought dried pasta, even when dry.

According to the world directory of pasta at (an 'integrated multimedia communication on pasta and related activities' -ooh!) this would be classed as tagliatelline or tagliolini. And here's a slightly more user friendly yet less exhaustive and less Italian pasta glossary.

I'm usually extremely bad at matching the right sauce to the right pasta - my plan generally consists of pick a shape that looks nice and put on it whatever is in the fridge that can be made into a sauce at that particular time. It's a sticky business becuase opinions seem to vary from region to region (as do pasta shapes), and I'm also convinced that there's a genetic component. It's very hard to have a feeling for these things without any Italian genes. My best guess for this pasta would be sage and butter - which is exactly what I'll be having for my tea tomorrow night. Yum yum. Am I breaking the rules Fabrizio?!??

A tale of many WIPs

I just can't stop starting new projects! I'm trying to restrict myself to concentrating on a couple of main ones at the moment but there's so much nice stuff in the stash that I want to have a go at. Florian fox is finished except for the addition of eyes and a mouth - have a look at the latest post on Woolie Mind to see him happily rummaging around the lovely noro yarn at Twist Fibre Craft in Newburgh on Saturday.

The uknown WIP

While we were there, I came across some balls of Noro Silver Thaw in the reduced basket so I bought a couple but I'm still deciding what to do with it. I have to admit that I like the look of this stuff more when it's in ball form than when it's knitted so I'm stuck! My latest idea is to have a go at a fish scale scarf like this one, but I'm still not 100% sure.

The mystery WIP

Also currently on the needles is a mystery fun project that will hopefully create a few laughs when it is presented to its owner in a few weeks time. Can't reveal too much just yet in case it is seen by the person it's intended for, but I'll tell all when the time comes. For now, suffice to say that it's a bit fiddly, but not too difficult, quite fun to knit and quite quick going.

The long-term WIP

I'm using my ebay-sniped Debbie Bliss Alpaca Silk to make the Stith Diva Simple Knitted Bodice. Not got very far yet, but it's a nice straightforward pattern and I like the idea of the top-down, no seams, try-as-you-go design. We'll see if it really works so well in practice! The yarn is lovely and silky and soft, but a little tricky to work with as a result, I keep pushing the needles through the yarn rather than around it. Seems an awful lot simpler than the butterfly wrap crochet pattern that I got from the same site. I'm by no means a crocheter, but to me it seems very hard to follow and full of mistakes so I'm too scared to get going on that one.

The not quite WIP

Also whilst at Newburgh on Saturday, I bought 9 rounds of lopi roving with the intention of making a bag as a Christmas present for my mum. I'm still at the stage of winding the stuff into balls - no small job - but hey it's only August. Loads of time yet!

The boring WIP
Still have to make cubes to go with that baby blanket. I've completed one so far, and started making the faces of the second. Bored with it.

Cat yoga

Can anyone say what's going on here? I'm not entirely sure what this position is called but it's often caused by over-exposure to hot sun through glass! A rare close up glimpse of cat underbelly - usually swiftly hidden as soon as a person comes within striking distance.