Sauerkraut: or grow your own bacteria

We’ve been growing our own bacteria. Not nasty ones from slovenly cleaning, but useful “probiotic” ones, giving a pleasant sour taste to pickles without using vinegar.

I’d assumed making non-vinegar pickles was difficult, needed special equipment and possibly dangerous. Kitchen stores, sprouting as fast as cookery programmes on TV, have fancy, expensive German crocks (with weights to press the cabbage “right”).

A free e-book from CulturesforHealth.com dispelled my excuses. I used big jars, cleverly weighted with small jars fitted inside, water-filled, as weights).

The recipe is simple:

  • 1 tight cabbage (red or green)
  • Salt 2.5%, or 25g per kilo of cabbage

The method is nearly as simple. Put aside outer leaves. Remove the core, slice fairly thinly. Sprinkle with salt and mix, pound it. I used a wooden mallet we hadn’t found a use for since I stopped making Chicken Kiev, but you could use a jam jar or a rolling pin. This softens the cabbage allowing the salt to penetrate. Once it looks damp, pack the cabbage into the big jar, pushed down to exclude air. When it’s fairly full, cover with bits of the outer leaves, forming a “lid” inside the jar. Put your little jar full of water in, to press the “lid” down. Cover with a plastic bag, to keep unwanted bugs out. Soon you’ll have mysterious, bubbling jars on the workbench (on a tray to catch any spills).

After a few days (depending how sour you like your Kraut, and on weather, the precise mix of bacterial flora on your cabbage, and even perhaps phase of the moon) it will be ready: crunchy and sour, the ideal accompaniment to sausages and lentils, or salads with salami and other cured meats. For colour contrast I made both plain and red-cabbage kraut and cauliflower florets coloured yellow with turmeric (which take twice as long to mature.

Gelification: or edible pearls

One of the simplest Molecular Gastronomy techniques is cheap yet powerful. Gelification simply means turning something into a gel. Your mother or granny (or come to that the people who cooked your school/hospital/prison dinners) used gelification if only when making jellies (what the Americans call Gello).

This post will introduce the fun and delicious results you can get through gelification by making edible pearls.

What you will need

Juice (I used commercial beetroot and purple carrot 1 This commercial juice is sweetened with apple juice, so I’ll use the pearls as a decoration/sauce for roast pork. but I have also used orange and lemon, and balsamic vinegar pearls are really fun for brightening a salad – almost any liquid you can eat can make edible pearls)

Agar agar sounds complicated but you can buy it at many Asian stores, some supermarkets, or online from stockists like Equagold.  2 $16 sounds expensive for a mere 60g, But that will make 60 times the quantity I used for Barbara and me, and if your local stores have it they will be much cheaper.

Vegetable oil (I used rice bran, posh people use Extra Virgin Olive Oil, I will when I am making pearls to dress a salad, but for this I plan on washing my fruit pearls).

Dropper or syringe look around a little and you’ll find droppers or syringes available cheaply (I’d try your local plastic box shop or $2 shop).

Tall glass or jam jar the taller and narrower the better within reason.

Method

Put the oil in the glass or jar (not too full, you need space for the juice) in the freezer for about 30 mins (some oils like olive need to be watched, so they do not set to solids) others can be left much longer.

Take juice and agar agar. Half a teaspoon (2.5g) of agar agar will set one cup of juice, I did half that for decoration/sauce for two people.

Sprinkle the agar agar on top of the juice in a pan, warm till just bubbling, stirring as needed.

Dribble the hot (as near boiling as is comfortable) juice 3 Agar agar sets at 32-40⁰C but only melts at 80⁰C into the oil. Enjoy watching the pearls form as they drift to the bottom of the glass. As in this video:

 

 

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Coming soon: gelification recipes and suggestions, starting with a Vegan crème brûlée with citrus pearls.

Notes   [ + ]

1. This commercial juice is sweetened with apple juice, so I’ll use the pearls as a decoration/sauce for roast pork.
2. $16 sounds expensive for a mere 60g, But that will make 60 times the quantity I used for Barbara and me, and if your local stores have it they will be much cheaper.
3. Agar agar sets at 32-40⁰C but only melts at 80⁰C

Molecular Gastronomy (simple and cheap)

This new series Molecular Gastronomy (simple and cheap) makes molecular recipes simple: explaining the techniques without mystification or complication. It also aims to let you try Molecular Gastronomy at home on a budget.

Molecular Gastronomy is a silly and complicated name for having fun with cooking and eating. After all, molecular means ‘to do with molecules’ so basically chemistry and physics. Gastronomy means to do with the science and art of cooking and eating. But all cooking has to do with using chemistry or physics (or more often both) to change the food we eat. The only gastronomy that is NOT ‘molecular’ is preparing and eating raw food!

So this series will introduce ‘Molecular Gastronomy’. We’ll keep it simple. We’ll also avoid expensive equipment (as far as possible) and complex kits. Other sites offer great kits and impressive gadgets. Here we want cheap Molecular Gastronomy.

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Coming tomorrow: Gelification: edible pearls will describe a simple cheap Molecular Gastronomy technique to add bursts of perhaps surprising flavour to your cooking.

New life for an old blog?

This blog has been moribund, the reason is a mix of pride and shame. I am proud of having adapted to living on a lifestyle block, and of caring for animals (cattle, sheep, and pigs) fairly successfully as well as growing fruit and veges (with rather less success as we are at 400m and enjoy cold winds which carry passing clouds across the property). But this combination means we have been far from the ideal of repentant carnivores, rather we have been eating lots of/too much meat, because that is easy and cheap to grow ourselves, while cabbages are harder work, and beans or lentils must be bought from far far away. Being a locavore and living here implies being an unrepentant carnivore.

However, I have a new interest, molecular gastronomy (a horribly pretentious and often inaccurate name for having fun using the science and art of food to produce food that is delicious or entertaining in often surprising ways).

Like many who are intrigued by Heston Blumenthal, or today our local restaurant, producing foams, pearls, ‘caviars’ and the like, I dreamed of doing the same at home. When Scripture Union gave me a generous Prezzie card, as well as the joy of seeing kiwi in the wild. 1 So, I treated myself to a ‘Molecular Gastronomy Kit’.

I’ve begun to have fun with it. I am sold on ‘molecular gastronomy’ at home. But as well as the silly pretentious name (which we now have little chance of changing), the high cost of entry (both in money and in time) seems unnecessary. So I plan a new section for this dying blog, Molecular Gastronomy (simple and cheap). I plan to show you in a number of simple steps some of the best techniques and point you (especially Kiwis who do not have the same access to specialised stores) to cheap sources of equipment and ingredients.

Notes   [ + ]

1.

Stories Food Growers tell

IMG_6970

In wintery April weather, we chatted over a prolonged afternoon tea. As well as asking each other’s advice, like Chris wondering about planting chokos, we also shared surplus produce and stories.

Some were proper food-growing tales, like Jenny J’s disaster when two heifers got out of the paddock and into the veggies. Apparently, they walked delicately down the paths, causing minimal damage to the infrastructure, despite their half ton weights, yet in their hunger devastated the veggies all the same. Our White Face who loved to jump never got close to the veggie patch, though several times she visited the neighbour’s steers after achieving a clear round, not even nicking the top bar of the gate.

Talking of clear rounds, the other Jenny is an accomplished equestrian, but it seems riding camels is not the same as riding horses. She took an early tumble on her first camel experience. She hastily remounted, so her host would not see her indignity. How does one hastily mount a camel? They seem such unfriendly creatures, and I thought camel rides required the handler to make the beast sit before inexperienced riders attempted mounting. I guess that’s the difference between a real farmer and an ex-townie, real farmers can make even camels obey!

The White Face heifer I mentioned earlier, Freckles, was not at all obedient the day we tried to load her on the truck. Although our little yards are over 5 feet high, she managed to get her forequarters out in her bid for freedom. We had to stand guard, “persuading” her back, or I am sure she’d somehow have escaped and eaten our veggies.

The prize for the oddest job recounted that afternoon goes to Tim and Joanna, deconstructing their orchid houses. Often harder work than building them in the first place. Their little orchard already produced so many surplus Beurre Bosc pears that after the group took what they wanted there were still more for me to share more widely.

Vietnamese Aubergine

eggplant-497445_1280

This recipe is deceptively simple and yet delicious (common characteristics of Vietnamese cuisine). Eat on its own with rice for makes a light Vegan meal, or as tasty vegetable dish for larger meals.

Ingredients

2 tsp oil (peanut is authentic)
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
2 tomatoes
1 tsp lemongrass
1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar (palm sugar is authentic)
2 small or 1 large aubergine cut into 1cm chunks (the thin Asian ones are authentic, so 2)
1 spring onion (chopped)
1 red chilli (cut finely, scrape off the to make the dish less hot)
pinch turmeric
pinch pepper
basil

Method

Fry the garlic, add tomato and lemongrass, add 2 Tbsp water, stirring. After a couple of minutes add half fish sauce, sugar and aubergine. Add 1 cup water and rest of fish sauce and sugar, add turmeric, pepper and the stalk of the lemongrass (if you are using the real thing). Simmer for about 7 more minutes till the aubergine is cooked, garnish with chilli, spring onions and basil (or other herbs like corriander)

Healthiest Chocolate Treat: Research update and recipe

IMG_1014Phase two of my R & D efforts to produce the world’s healthiest chocolate treat saw the addition of beetroot, almond flour and licorice to reduce the sugar content. The result is not so much a muffin as a hot chocolate mousse, but so delicious it has to be bad for you, yet so healthy it’s criminal.

Hot Chocolate Mousse Recipe

Blitz in food processor:

  • 1 large or 2 small cooked beetroot
  • 1 large or 2 small avocado

Add:

  • 1 cup cacao
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 tsp licorice extract and 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour sieved together with 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar (you may be happy with less, or may need more – you be the judge, cookery is all about frequent tasting 😉
  • 1 cup milk (or milk substitute) add more till a slightly runny batter is produced

By hand mix in:

  • 1/3 cup cacao nibs

Makes enough to fill 12 large muffin cases. Cook at 170c for about half an hour (the time will vary a lot depending on the exact size of the veges etc… so again judgement is needed.

Result hard shelled soft and gooey chocolate mousses to eat with a spoon, decadent and delightful.

Health Warning

When you discover red in the toilet bowl, do NOT panic, you do NOT have ebola, beetroot does this if you eat enough, and you will not stop at just one or two of these treats.

If you want to make these even more decadently delicious, and can stand them being a tiny touch less outrageously healthy sprinkle with icing sugar.

Giving a fig

Fig via Wikimedia
Fig via Wikimedia

Delicate pink, sweetly aromatic and succulent, fresh figs are delightful. In Bible times the good life meant everyone having their own vine and fig tree. We don’t yet have vines, we do have four fig trees, though they’ve yet to produce a crop. Wind tore branches off our best tree, leaving a huge scar and split trunk. What the winds left the birds have eaten. Others in the food growers’ group have fig trees too. The “other Tim” has a row of flourishing trees. The fruit he offered round at April’s meeting was delicious. Naturally the conversation turned to figs.

Did you know that several varieties produce two crops a year? What other fruit tree (except the ubiquitous lemon) can say that? Figs are also remarkably resilient. Our wind battered victim has the makings of a half decent crop, despite its sad state, the birds certainly enjoyed them! One expert even recommends planting in a washing machine drum to restrict the roots and so promote fruiting!

Figs are weird, not fruit at all, but “inverted flowers”! The succulent juicy sweet “flesh” is really the flower – no wonder they have that attractive colour. This strange inside-out flower can’t be pollinated the usual way, but needs a special kind of wasp, which crawls inside the fruit. Wasps were another topic of conversation, everyone saw more than usual last summer. But at our place, the wasps were more interested in devastating our apple crop, than investigating our figs with their inside-out flowers!

Healthiest Chocolate Treat Ever: Current Research

Avocado Chocolate Muffin mix
Avocado Chocolate Muffin mix

For my current research project I am experimenting with substitutions with the aim of producing the healthiest chocolate treat ever.

I am using my standard chocolate muffin recipe as the starting and reference point.

My first step is was radical, I substituted avocado for the fat, milk and egg. Aiming at Vegan as well as healthy. So far results are encouraging the muffins are soft, almost creamy and chocolaty. (Just needing a little salt – hopefully not enough t be unhealthy – to counteract the vegetarian bitterness of the avocado.)

Replacing half the chocolate chips with cocoa nibs also worked well.

Now, what I need next is a sugar substitute. Would honey work do you think? And does Manuka honey retain its health benefits when heated?

For chocolate-lovers only

Perhaps practice makes (if not perfect) them look better...These cookies pack the most intense chocolate punch. They are not for people who think that white stuff is “chocolate”, even people who believe real chocolate can advertise how much milk it contains may balk, but those who love real high cacao solid dark chocolate should love them. They don’t look like much before they are cooked and are even less appealing when baked, but the taste and texture… Try some on a chocolate-lover near you 🙂

They are soft and crumbly, but so chocolatey…

  • 250g shortening (I used a mix of margarine and rice bran oil)
  • 140g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 50g cacao made up to 300g with plain flour (use less cacao for a milder chocolate hit)
  • 0.5-1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate cut into fragments and cacao nibs (again for those who want milder could try all chocolate fragments)

Each time you add an ingredient mix. (The easiest way is straight into the food processor and zap until the last item.)

Make into balls, smaller than golf balls (unless you want giant cookies). Place on baking sheet well apart, squash with two fingers or the base of a tumbler. Cook at 180 C for 12-15mins. They will still feel soft, but will harden on cooling.

They look dreadful (that’s why there are no photos), so you may want to do what we do to make brownies look respectable drench with icing sugar…  personally I leave them nude and hope that will put other people off, sadly Barbara was still happy to scoff half the last batch 🙁

PS Can anyone tell me a source of Fair Trade cacao nibs in NZ – googling suggests they are available in the USA but not here 🙁