Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Venturing into the unknown world of washed rind cheeses and how to have Elderflowers all year round. December 10th 2014

It's been a while since I experimented with a new cheese variety but with my cheeseaholic daughter coming home from the UK to visit this summer, I thought I would be brave and try something new -a washed brine cheese in the style of the French Haute Savoie Alps cheese Reblochon.
The initial process was fairly straight forward, adding culture, rennet, cutting curds, slightly heating, draining and light pressing. Adding a culture called Brevibacterium linens is the distinguishing difference  to begin with. 

Once it is in the cheesecave,every alternate day the cheese gets flipped and washed with a light brine solution. This I have to do for 2 to 6 weeks. Meanwhile the cheese will develop a yellow orange colour and the inside will get soft and pasty and very stinky I think.

I just hope I know when it is ready and that it hasn't gone off! So far so good.

I have also done a bit more foraging for more elderflowers in parks and along a disused railway line. I had the (I hope) brilliant idea that I could preserve any excess flowers in the freezer by vacuum packing them.I hope this prevents any discolouration so that they can be used later in the year to make the super easy Sparkling Elderflower of my last post.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Foraging for flowers, Monday, November 24 2014

The elderflowers have been in flower for the past few weeks so I have been out gathering. My source of flowers involves scrambling along a railway line and hoping there are no snakes in the long grass near the trees. This year on my first foraging jaunt about a month ago, I gathered not only some flowers to make sparkling elder and elder syrup but some cuttings to propagate as well. My cuttings are now little plants in pots so now I need to decide  where to plant them so one day in the future I will have my own trees from which to gather the flowers.
It is so easy to make the sparkling elder, I think I might gather a few more flowers tomorrow to make just one more batch for summer.  I might try some experimenting with other flavour sparkling fruit drinks this summer if I have fruit in excess. I have read that red rose petals can also be used which might be worth trying.
The sparkling drink can be stored in the freezer in PET bottles and still retain its fizz but rather than freezing the elder syrup in order to preserve it, this year I have put some in Fowlers preserving jars. It should last for months if not years this way and a useful idea if you are running out of room in the freezer.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

All set for summer with my new toy. October 8th 2014

Last weekend, I found myself browsing in on of the second hand shops in town and came across a Cuisinart ice cream maker for $35. Seemed too good to pass up when I worked out that I would only need to make about 4 litres of gourmet ice cream to cover the cost. After that all my ice cream would be "free" if I tried to use ingredients I have to hand. With several thousand litres of milk being produced per day here, my primary ingredient was right at my door!
Eager to try  it out, I decided on using up some of the last of this year's crop of kiwi fruit and make a sorbet. This was just a combination of sugar syrup and blended Kiwifruit. Into the prefrozen bowl ( it is an insulated bowl with some sort of liquid in between the inner and outer layers...maybe salt water) and on went the maker.
 30 minutes later and here is the result.
The finished product was soft enough to spoon even a few days later. This is quite different from ice cream I have made years ago where you had to melt it in the microwave to be able to get any out of the container! After several days of warm summery weather, it has turned back to winter now, temporarily I hope, so not exactly sorbet eating temperatures.

Experiment number two on the weekend was to make a frozen yoghurt to see if that could be a palatable low fat substitute for traditional ice cream which uses cream. A cup of milk with some choc bits blended, added to two cups of yoghurt and here is the result.
Again, it is still soft enough to spoon after being in the freezer a few days. It is quite chocolatey, has the slight tang of yoghurt and melts quite quickly but not bad at all. I am looking forward to doing a bit of experimenting with flavours in the next few months now. Occasionally I might treat ourselves to a cream version ice cream too.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Clotted cream but where are the scones? August 24th 2014

This weekend it was a good one to stay inside as I fought off winter ills that until now I have been able to avoid this year. What to do inside? Time to experiment in making clotted cream. I have been meaning to try for ages and never got around to it. It is not that difficult.
First I brought 5 litres of evening milk to 76 degrees C in a double boiler to avoid the milk burning on the bottom. I then kept it at that temperature for about 40 minutes before taking it off the heat, wrapping the saucepan in tea towels and putting in a foam box to slow the cooling process as much as possible. Next day, about 18 hours later, it was time to skim the cream off the top with a slotted spoon. That's it!
And not to waste the skim milk I was left with, I turned it into ricotta to make cheesecake.
Now I am just waiting for someone to whip up some scones to have the cream with for a true Devonshire tea Or is that Cornish?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Checking out the Czechs. August 17 2014

The last part of my overseas holiday was spent in the Czech Republic, mostly in Prague. From what I could see, Czech cuisine is similar to those of other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Potatoes and pork in various guises such as sausage, roast, steak seem to be central to most meals and when we went looking for Czech specialities that is exactly what we found.
First up, lots of places in Central Prague advertised Goulash served in bread pots so of course that was on the list to try. For vegetarians, potato soup in a bread pot was the option.
Very tasty Goulash served in a very crusty loaf of bread. It was difficult to resist eating the bread once I had finished the filling!
On street corners a tasty snack was sold. Trdelnik, dough is cooked wrapped around a stick in a spiral shape.  Sprinkled with cinnamon sugar it was lovely and crusty.
On our final day in Prague we went to a restaurant just below the castle where they advertised traditional Czech food. 
 I chose a fried carp dish

My sister chose yet Olde Bohemian platter of Smoked baked pork neck, Smoked pork sausage,Grilled ark, bread dumplings, Potoato dumplings, Bacon dumplings, red sauerkraut, white sauerkraut and potato pancakes. Needless to say, she didn't need much for dinner that evening!
And my daughter had a vegetarian goats cheese salad
Just in case we weren't already full enough, we shared an Apple strudel for dessert (but I forgot to take a photo)
As it was summer, we were also able to find plenty of fresh fruit like strawberries, raspberries and cherries to munch on as well. And then with our final few krona we bought a large bar of Czech cherry chocolate at the airport. Unfortunately I never got to taste it though, as in a rush to get to Heathrow for my long haul flight home the next day, I left it sitting in my daughter's room in Chelsea where she is living and she is still enjoying it almost two months later!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Welsh Food Adventures, August 6th 2014

It's over a month now since I got home from my overseas holiday but I have been very slack on blogposts after I wrote the 2 part Iceland adventures posts.  But there's more to tell! 

From Iceland we flew to Manchester and then drove into Wales for 3 days of exploring our family roots in mid Wales. The first thing I noticed was the huge difference between the somewhat sparse range of fruit and vege in Iceland to the huge selection on offer in Tesco's in Welshpool. We stayed in an AirBNB apartment attached to a stately home near Abermule, tucked away up a little road through the deep dark wood. It was fantastic, with baby grand piano looking out the bay windows to the lawn tennis court! Still self catering, it gave us the opportunity to find special treats in a local butchery, bakery and farmers markets. One night , after a visit to Bob the Butcher in the town of Rhayader where our dad was born, we ate home made Welsh lamb pies which were delicious. We also tried some local treats from the bakery- Bara Brith and an Elderflower and Strawberry Cake. This gave me the idea for when I got home of using my homemade Elderflower syrup in a Raspberryand Elderflower cake. Pouring the hot syrup over the cake as it came out of the oven gave it a great flavour and was so popular at a work morning tea that there were only a few crumbs to bring home!

One night we treated ourselves and dined at a one Michelin star restaurant in the tiny town of Montgomery. We arrived on time for our booking at The Checkers despite losing our way following the Google maps directions. We sat on the terrace for canapés in the lovely summer evening. The canapés were pretty spectacular and probably the highlight of the meal. Beetroot macaroons, quenelles of salmon mousse with quail eggs and prawn crackers with a delicious dipping sauce were a great start to the experience and went very well with a glass of cider.

We shared 2 entrees of a  Smoked Blaenavon cheese soufflé with a Granny Smith and almond salad  and a Duck assiete with cherry and hazelnut dressing. Oops I forgot to take a photo of the soufflé until it had almost been all eaten up!
Next we shared four main courses. I ended up choosing the best of them. It was a local pork belly with pomme mouselline, caramelised pear and braising jus. It was beautiful. The other choices were Celtic seared beef with a smoked creamed potato, braided oxtail,and antiboise sauce, Roasted Welsh loin and cutlet of lamb, smoked bacon, flageolet beans aged tomato and a garlic balsamic jus and finally fish but not the one on the menu so I can't remember what it was. They were all nice  but I think I expected something a bit more mind blowing to have earnt a Michelin star.

By the time we got to desserts, I forgot to take any more photos so you will just have to imagine the tasty praline creme brûlée and chocolate and raspberry cardinal that we finished off our meal with. It was still twilight when we left the restaurant and made our way home, not the Google maps way but a much quicker and easier route.

Still time for a little tinkle on the ivories before bed.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Food Adventures in Iceland Part 2. June 15th 2014

Rhubarb is about the only "fruit" we have seen grown in Iceland and used in cooking. It is not technically a fruit really but is very tasty in a pie,

or in jam.
We thought we saw some growing on the side of the road near a cottage we were staying in....but weren't game enough to cook it and eat it in case it was a poisonous lookalike.

Early on in our trip in a little fishing village called Olafsvik,  we went hunting for fresh fish to buy.
Eventually after much driving around and asking people hanging around buildings at the dock, we found a man who showed us some big tubs of fish.  He seemed quite bemused about our interest and when we asked how much for two of these Oceanic Red fish,  he said we could just have them for nothing! I don't think people usually just turn up at the docks to buy fish here. They tasted very nice that night for dinner though.

One night we stayed on a dairy farm where you could watch live action milking on TV from your hotel room! That night we had a buffet dinner with lovely lamb soup, roast lamb, quiche, cod, salmon and finished it off with rhubarb pie and their homemade ice cream. There was a pretty special view of a glacier from the dining room too!

Food Adventures in Iceland. June 15 2014

I am writing this in Reykjavik, Iceland at the end of two weeks travelling around in a rental car with my three sisters. We have been mostly self catering but have tried to find a few local things to sample on our way. I must confess we haven't tried the rotten shark which is a speciality, neither fillet of foal which was on the menu of a hotel where we stayed in an attached cottage. Neither have we tried the dried pieces of fish that are for sale in supermarkets...a favourite thing of Icelanders to snack on. 
Fresh fruit and vegetables are not in abundance which is a surprise as the climate here is not as severe as some northern hemisphere countries. Here in the south west of the country, there is plenty of free geothermal energy to heat glasshouses yet we have not seen many and many of those were derelict. Yesterday though we bought some hot house grown raspberries just outside Reykjavik which were delicious.
Lamb and fish are the most commonly eaten meats....there are plenty of sheep all over the island and plenty of fishing villages too. There used to be a thriving salted herring industry but one year back in the 1960s the herring didn't turn up at all....they had been overfished almost to oblivion. One evening I made a smoked salmon pasta dish with some very strongly smoked salmon.

My favourite discovery is that of Skyr pronounced skeer. It is like a thick yoghurt but actually a cheese made with starter culture and rennet and then the curds are strained. Unfortunately you can only make skyr with some old skyr as the starter although I think I might have a go with just some thermophilic cultures when I get home just to see if I get anywhere near the taste. Skyr comes unflavoured or sweetened with different fruits.
In the geothermal springs another speciality is bread cooked in the steam. We were expecting bread however this tasted more like date loaf without the dates, more cake like in texture, and sweetened with brown sugar. It was great to have for morning tea on the road!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Slow cooked Quinces and Easter buns April 13th 2014

I find it hard to believe that it been almost two months since I last wrote a blog post. It is not as if I haven't been busy preserving but just doing a lot of the same things I do every autumn when the tomatoes are in full swing. I have been bottling tomato paste and purée, making relish, and semi drying as well as making some tomato soup. The cupboard is full of pickles, jams, and relish so I think I had better stop now. 

A friend gave me some quinces the other night . I wanted to try them in the slow cooker. I found a recipe in Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion which spiced the quinces by adding cardomon pods, cinnamon stick and a halved lemon to the sugar syrup they are cooked in. They bubbled away in the slow cooker for about three hours and are absolutely delicious!
I have also been making a few special treats for Easter. Today it was Easter buns....not hot cross as I can't be bothered to decorate them with a cross but the recipe is just the same. I have glazed them with a sugar, water and gelatine mix to give a nice glossy finish. Of course we had to taste a couple with our coffees this morning! I also melted some cooking chocolate and mixed with dried kiwi fruit, made a bar of kiwi fruit chocolate. No need for Easter eggs this year.
Out in the garden, it is pruning time for the apple trees , grape vines as well as planting a few seeds for winter veges while the soil is still warm enough for them to get going.  This weekend I have planted some broad bean seeds as well as a mix of Asian vegetables like bok choy and wom bok.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dehydrated Pesto and Ratatouille. Monday February 17th 2014

After making my bulk lot of pesto on Saturday, I got to thinking about whether Pesto might dehydrate to be able to take it on a hiking trip in a couple of weeks time. Best way to find out was to try it. While I had the dehydrator whirring away in the background, I thought I would dehydrate some vegetable concoctions to supplement some other hiking food I had done already. With a little packet of dehydrated bolognaise sauce on the menu, I thought some ratatouille might be a great accompaniment, especially as now it the time of year for zucchini and tomato glut.

There a few bits if dried spaghetti sitting on the top of the pesto having fallen through from the tray above.
The  pesto remained a bit oily but this gave it a crumbly texture. Time will tell, but I think it might be just right with a bit of water added to rehydrate it before spreading on a cracker.

The ratatouille turned out more like a leather.
Looking forward to tasting both out in the wilds soon!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pesto. Saturday February 15, 2914

It is at this time of year when I regret not replacing my food processor after it stopped working a couple of years ago. I have heaps of basil in the garden and to make pesto without a food processor is so much more difficult. Eventually I got a half decent mix after using the blender and stab mixer . I like to try pesto with afew different nuts rather than the tradional pine nuts. I have made it several times using walnuts but today made it with almond meal as that was one less thing to blend. The almond meal adds a less strong flavour to the pesto but it is still quite nice. We had some on our pizza cooked on the barbecue tonight. This is just a blend of basil, almond meal, garlic, olive oil and a little salt. I forgot to add grated Parmesan but it still tastes ok.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sparkling fruit drinks. January 27,2014

In November last year I wrote a post about making Elderflower cordial and also a sparkling drink from the flowers as well. I have recipes for other sparkling drinks to make from rhubarb, lemon , cherry or rose ptals but have only tried the rhubarb version and found it a bit sweet for my liking. just before New Year, I made some of the lemon version which is ready for drinking now. It is so easy and so tasty that I made another batch on the weekend.It should be ready in a few weeks. One day I might experiment with some other fruit, maybe kiwi fruit as it looks like we will have an abundant crop this winter.
Sparkling Lemon
Begin by dissolving 3.5 cups of sugar in 4 cups of boiling water in a large food safe plastic container  about 6 litre capacity. Add 4.5 cups of roughly chopped lemons, 16 cups cool water and 200 ml of cider vinegar. Cover with a tea towel or lid and sit for 48 hours.
 Strain and bottle in PET plastic bottles and seal. Wait at least 2 weeks until the fizz develops then keep in fridge or freezer until ready to drink.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sauerkraut and Sour Cherries. January 12, 2014

I have an abundance of red cabbages rapidly maturing in the garden, maturing to the point of starting to split. I decided it was time to act and make something with one of the bigger ones. I have tried sauerkraut before with ordinary cabbage and wasn't particularly happy with the result. Particularly after my home made pressing device crashed and cracked the crock I was making it in! So after a bit of googling recipes, I found a method of making a small amount of sauerkraut in a preserving jar without the need for pressing other than opening the lid and pushing down on the top to ensure the liquid stays over the top of the kraut. I made the first batch about 10 days ago and then as it appeared to be working well, I made another batch last week. The difference between this method and the traditional method is that after shredding the cabbage, you add a couple of tablespoons of salt and then give it a head start by massaging the cabbage to break down the fibres before packing into the jar.  Now I just sit it in a dark corner of the kitchen and give it a daily press down. I am hoping to recognise when it is ready and then might try to heat preserve it in Fowlers jars to make it last for months rather than having to store all of it in the fridge. It looks very colourful anyway!

Our local cherry farm is now harvesting the beautiful sweet cherries that they grow. The farmer rang me the other night to tell me that "my" Morello cherry tree planted by his uncle, the previous owner for me, was ready for harvesting too. So the next day, I set off with containers and stripped the tree as best I could. 3.5 kg later, I brought them home and then spent the next hour or so pipping them. As well as freezing them for cooking later in the year, this year I tried something different. I experimented with bottling some in the microwave. It only took 3 minutes per jar in pop top jars which suck in as the vacuum develops on cooling. That way you know you have a perfect seal. The jars only had a couple of centimetres of water in the bottom when I packed the fruit so it is mainly natural juices that they are bottled in.
Hopefully they won't lose too much flavour by being heated but it will save on freezer space anyway!