Soda bread and mushroom soup

We’ve been getting back into watching some old episodes of River Cottage this past couple of weeks, and as usual we’re inspired to take the kitchen by storm. Tonight I was inspired to make a quick and easy soda bread to go with my mushroom soup.

Mushroom Soup

  • homemade chicken stock (inspired by River Cottage)
  • dried wild mushroom mix from Neudorf Mushrooms (purchased and the Neudorf festival held on the weekend)
  • Slightly old “fresh” mushrooms”
  • Riverside cream skimmed from the top of raw milk (just down the road from our place)
  • fresh parsley from my garden (the parsley “bushes” are wild and lovely now)
  • chunk of butter from Wangapeka Downs (another local dairy)
  • black pepper and salt to taste (I LOVE loads of pepper in this dish)

Served with Soda Bread ala River Cottage I did not think this was going to work out in the end. I had no buttermilk and only a smidgen of yogurt left so I performed the old vinegar to milk trick (1 tsp vin to 1 cup milk) and added what I had of the yogurt then accidentally added it all to the bread flour and ending up with a slightly wetter bread mix. Added to this little stuff up I had the dedicated help of a 2.5 year old who wanted to poor in everything he could reach, stir and stir and stir and then throw in handfuls of flour. So between juggling him on a chair up to his elbows in flour, the visit from a friend and her daughter who had dropped Pip off and not quite getting my measurements, I ended up throwing a fairly wet pile of ahhh, slop, onto the baking tray (there was no way I could cut a cross in the top as the knife just stuck it was so moist) and closing the oven door and ignored it for 40 minutes while I whipped up the soup.

The result was an absolutely delicious and filling dinner of hot bread and hot soup – and I don’t even like mushrooms! 😉

Oh and I almost forgot to mention the cold glass of Elderflower cordial we made a few weekends ago (along with Elderflower Champagne that should b ready in a few weeks).

Cheese Grommit

Paneer curdsThere’s been so much going on here of late that I’ve had little time for updates and record keeping. Between the usual ups and downs of raising a child (teething, sleeping, eating and so forth) and the general round of seasonal illnesses, we have managed to still do a lot in the kitchen.

We’ve recenlty  started to get a regular weekly delivery of raw milk (unpasturised, full cream, fresh from the cow). It’s gorgeous stuff and causes a great deal of excitment around these parts. We are now in full swing making yogurt (I had to buy a second yogurt thermus to keep up with demand), skimming the cream (there just isn’t anything as good as fresh cream with jam on scones – even scones that resemble rocks) and then there is the cheese. We’ve been making some very quick and easy cheeses. Labna a middle eastern yogurt cheese and the the easiest one I’ve come across, and Paneer, an indian cheese. Both cheeses are made with out cultures or rennet.

First thing I do when the milk arrives is to put on the kettle to boil, then I scoop about 2 tablespoons (tbs) of yogurt from the current tub in the fridge (the first batch of our homemade yogurt was produced from a starter from a delicious organic, tub set cream we purchased at the supermarket). I mix this starter with the milk, pop the lid on, file the thermus with boiling water and pop in the container, put on the lid and leave over night. The next day we have fresh yogurt for breakfast on soaked mueslie with preserved fruit or it get’s turned into labna.

To make the labna, you poor the yogurt into a bowl, grind in some salt (to taste and helps to preserve the cheese a little – like butter), stir together until well combined and smooth. Line a sieve with cheese cloth (or fine mesh fabric), place over an empty bowl, poor in yogurt slowly, place in the fridge and let it slowly drain overnight. In the morning you have a delicious “cream cheese” that tastes wonderful on fruit toast (I need to “refil” the same piece of toast for William about 4 times before he finally eats the bread and not just the cheese). They whey (liquid that’s left over in the bowl) is given to my friends chickens. The cheese itself just peels off the cloth. 1ltr of yogurt does about 300gms of cheese.

Easy cheese number 2, or paneer, is simply made by heating the milk to around 80 °C. Remove from the heat and stire in 1 tbs for every ltr acid – lemon/lime juice or vinegar. Do this slowly, about 1 tsp at a time and stir the cheese. You will see it seperating as you go. Once you’ve put in all the acid leave the pot to cool down. While it cools line a sieve with cheese cloth and place it over a bowl. Once the liquid is cool, poor it into the cheese cloth. You will be left with only the curds (solids), gather up the sides of the cheese cloth and squeeze out more liquid. You can now either leave it to hang and drip, or place it in a mold (or if you don’t have anything, leave it in the cheese cloth tied up) and place a weight on top to force out the rest of the liquid. The more liquid you remove, the firmer the cheese. You can either have a sort of cream cheese or a firm cheese that can be used in place of meet or tofu in curries.

Out of the kitchen, we’ve managed to plant 100 tagasaste (Tree Lucern’s) on our block of land at AtamaiTrees

William even came along to help, mostly be behaving himself and having fun playing in his play-pen with the bamboo poles, tree guards and even on occassion his actual toys.

We also got a helping hand from Craig’s sister Fiona and her partner Nick who came to visit over Easter.

So things have been busy and fun

And summer turns to autumn

We’ve moved into our new, temporary, home across the road from our block of land at Atamai Eco-Village. The temperature in the mornings is turning chillier and chillier and evening meals are longer comfortable and refreshing out doors. Summer is fading fast, the trees are changing their colours and a new bread of cooking is taking place.

Last week we had tomatoes bubbling on the stove, roasting in the oven and cored and popped whole in the freezer. This week it will be peaches as bags arrive from my friends gardens. So far on the peach use wish list is peach pie filling (to freeze), peach cobbler (to eat warm with vanilla bean ice-cream) and preserved peaches in syrup (for breakfasts and quick desserts). Winter is starting to sound pretty tasty.

We need to start thinking about what to plant on our block while we await the rains. There will be trees, mostly Tree Lupins for now and also green manure crops, most likely in the form of broad beans and lupins. We aren’t sure if we will have the time to get an other vegetables planted, but we will see. Things that could still be planted include, lettuces and other leafy greens (spinach, silverbeat, chard, kale), broccoli, beetroot, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, Pak Choi, Swedes, Turnips and Spring Onions. Hmmm, that list is making me realise even more how important that vegetable patch is at this time of year.

Tomato Paste Recipe

We purchased 8kg of Roma (egg shaped) tomatoes and set to work turning them into tomato paste.

* First boil a large pot of water
* Cut a cross in the bottom of all the tomatoes
* Place the tomatoes into the pot of water a few at a time
* Once the skin starts to come away from the tomatoes pop them into a sink of cold water
* Peal the skin off the cold tomatoes
* Slice in half and scoop out seeds and cut out hard white core parts

Cooking bit
* Measure how many liters of tomatoes now have, had 1/2 teaspoon of salt for each liter (we ended up with a 6 liter boiler full)
* Boil for one hour
* Get a really tight blender or and wand and (don’t bother with a sieve) and get everything nice and fine
* Boil till reduced to a paste (sticks to the spoon in a clumpy sticky ball), takes 2-3 hours
* Stir occasionally to prevent sticking

Bottling bit (if not freezing)
* When the paste is looking like it’s almost thick enough boil up another pot of water
* Place your canning jars, seals & lids into the water to sterilise
* Remove them from the water once  paste is ready
* Poor paste into jars about 3cm from top and seal with some olive oil before putting on the lids.

Freezing bit (if not bottling) 
* Work out your serving sizes (a mix of 1 & 2 tablespoons is probably good)
* Place this amount into either freezer containers, zip lock bags or ice cube trays (empty trays into bags once frozen)
* Pop into freezer and forget until you need it 

* Wear an apron as the hot lava bubbles everywhere
* Put a lid on the bubbling lava
* Place a teatowel over your arm holding the stirring spoon to protect from the lava
* I keep repeating the word “lava” because boiling tomatoes is really that hot! 

Summary – We started with 8kg kilo’s of tomatoes, reduced that to about 8 cups of paste. I didn’t boil the paste quite as long as I should have though as I was worried about burning (I’d switched pots 3 times already). We have a horrible electric stove that you can’t make instant temp adjustments too and seems to have two settings, boiling and off.

Look in your pantry

As you do on a Sunday morning, I decided to pull everything out of the pantry and onto the kitchen floor, there is a reason for my madness. 

  1. I wanted to see where our food came from around the world
  2. I wanted to see what we actually had in the pantry that was actually food and not just junk full of sugar, additives and preservatives
  3. I wanted to know what we had that never got used and get rid of anything out of date

The only things that went back into the pantry were those things that were

  1. Home made (jams, preserves etc)
  2. Locally made (market purchases of preserves etc)
  3. NZ produced and made (these had to be 100% NZ, no NZ & imported ingredients)

Everything else went into the cupboard in the laundry. Not to be thrown out, not to be left unused, but to remind us of the extra effort these foods require, the carbon miles they accrue just to get to us. We had food from Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka, America, Italy and China to name but a few. Much of it was organic, most of it was actually in the “real food” category, so it wasn’t too bad a pile. However, it disturbed me to see things I consider to be basic necessities that are all imported.

All our oils, pasta, rice, vinegars and sugar, possibly the flour too but I’m checking up on that one, all come from some other country. We live in a wine growing country, how hard is it to turn some of those grapes into vinegars? We have a huge sugar factory that makes sugar products, golden syrup etc, but all the sugar comes from overseas (probably Australia so not too far but still). We live in a world that takes food for granted, we don’t bother to think how far that item has had to travel, the working conditions of those growing or processing it for distribution, the chemicals going into the ground to produce it, the unsustainable conditions used. I remember earlier in the year feeling “uncomfortable” that our bananas came from Ecuador (not even Australia!) because we had decided to choose organic and I didn’t want anyone deprived of fruit (bananas were actually one thing I really wanted in those first months of my pregnancy, I was eating at least one a day when normally I might have one a year). Now I’m afraid if anyone wants bananas they will have to settle for our home grown “lady finger” variety and may even have to deal with frozen over fresh.

I dragged Craig out of bed to join me over the food pile and waited (im)patiently for Buffie to also wake up, I needed to draw them both into this discovery, discussion and new plan. We are going to try to be “Locavores” of some type. We are going to attempt to buy locally grown, locally made products, expand that to NZ wide and include a few special items such as herbs & spices (as they require very little to produce and transport), Fair Trade chocolate & coffee and also sugar. We are going to try to put nothing in the pantry that does not fit this category. (oh crap!). 

So far I have a local source of goats milk for us, I’m working on the cows milk. We can get oil from the local market but it’s going to be very very expensive considering how much we use (especially during the preserving seasons). We are about to get a grain mill so will mill our own grain for flour. Oh, there is one more exception area and that is for Buffie, she’s allergic to the wheat family and can’t have lactose. Because this has already wrought huge changes to her life and diet we don’t wont to make life more difficult for her at home, so she gets to have a few extra special items (such as soy & rice milk, rice crackers etc). We will start to work towards making our own flours for making bread, pastry & pasta for her at some point.

I need to find a source of vinegar for all my preserving and how on earth am I going to substitute vegemite!

I used up the last of the flour tonight to make 4 loaves of courgette bread (to freeze) and potato, courgette & corn fritters for dinner. Interestingly, I made Buffie’s courgette fritters with Quinoa flour and they tasted better then the other ones, had more flavour to them and held together better, so I think that recipe will happily get the locally grown switcharoo.

I’m really looking forward to the market this weekend now, I need bread from our local baker and pasta from the pasta guys, as well as mounds of fruit and veg that we didn’t grow or grow enough of so that I can start getting winter soups and things into the freezer (potato & leek, and tomato are the top of the list). I’m also going to have to pop into the butchers for some chicken carcasses to make up some stock.

So to end, I want everyone reading this to have a quick look in your pantry, check out where your food is coming from, what’s in it, do you use it? I’d be interested to hear if others move further towards  the locavore mindset too.

The joys of homesteading

I don’t know if we have simply been inspired by the TV show River Cottage, or because it’s Christmas and Craig has some time away from his desk, the beautiful summer weather or all of the above, but we are really enjoying ourselves the last few days and been really really busy.

Christmas day started with us cooking breakfast for 55 people! All in the common house of Earthsong. It was wonderful and a great way to stop from feeling homesick. There were croissants with filings including homemade preserves, ham, cheese, tomato, avocado, pineapple, strawberries and cream and waffles. Orange juice, bubbly, tea or coffee to wash it all down with and wonderful company. It was an absolute delight, everyone seemed well feed and happy and the compliments and words of thanks were greatly received. We then followed it up with a very small pot-luck lunch, very laid back and quiet.

At the end of the day I was left with the remainders of a half-leg of ham, 10 “chips” of strawberries and a big bowl of sliced tomatoes. Craig and I did our best with the ham yesterday and this morning, and then this afternoon I turned the remainder into a big pot of yummy pea & ham soup served with a zucchini bread (or cake, it was pretty sweet, next time I serve it as bread I’ll put a lot less sugar in it, but with all that sugar it would be a delicious dessert with yogurt).

  After leaving the ham & split peas to soak for 4 hours I turned the bowl of sliced tomatoes into soup, I added vegetable stock, 2 baked potatoes, thyme and bay leaves, cooked it all up and then put it through the blender. It tastes amazing and I’m so looking forward to having it tomorrow with some more of the zucchini bread for lunch.

While I was busy in the kitchen, Craig was out side trying out our new auger (you stick one end in the ground and then turn the big handle to dig holes for posts). He managed to dig enough holes and embed posts into them ready to make our new garden fencing (to keep the poultry out).

I forgot to mention that prior to this activity we started our morning off by making breakfast, feeding the animals and watering the glass house, followed by a plum picking expedition. We have a wonderful mound of plums.

Tomorrow morning I have another busy cooking day scheduled with a long list of things to preserves and piles of yummy fresh food from the garden.

I’ll be turning the left over strawberries into more strawberry jam, the plums into jam, sauce and some sort of chutney, then there is the bean chutney and the zucchini pickles, not to mention the guests we have coming for dinner, the probable beheading of a chicken for the pot, oh and I would also like to do some sort of lactic fermentation of at least 1 cabbage. I think I’ll let Craig see to the feeding and watering of animals and plants tomorrow.

Now if that wasn’t enough activity for you, we also squeezed in a visit to a very cool kitchen shop called Milly’s Kitchen and spent a bucket load of money on new preserving jars (we already ran out of supplies with the last lot of preserving we did). This shop is full of wonderful kitchen goodies and I was in total heaven! I so need to find away to justify the sexy-as $300 copper jam pot… So shop visit, home, cooking, more holes & posts, dinner, a few minutes of archery practice (it’s been over a year since I’ve picked up my bow, and man do I suck, lol). Wondering around the gardens investigating the plants (yes the zucchini plants definitely have “rust” and some of the greenhouse tomatoes have blight), lots more plant maintenance was listed, noted and dealings with to come *sigh*. Now Craig is off in his workshed working on his workbench (I think?).

Sprocket has also been very active today too, it’s so bizarre to feel these little movements and huge reminder that I’m not alone in this body any more- how freaky does that sound!

In other news, in an attempt to protect our surprise second clutch of ducklings from the hungry Harrier Hawks, I built a dome for them.

 The dome consists of  12 meters of flexible pipe, 4 T connectors and some bird netting. Inside we’ve placed a shell pond for them to paddle away in with a little bridge to get in and out of the water. Mum and ducklings have been living in the dome for about a week now and seem pretty happy. The other poultry come and visit them throughout the day so we may actually get a good clutch surviving this time round.

It’s so nice to see so much happening around the home lately. Their are 2 types of onions hanging (brown and red), plus three bunches of bananas,  I’ve been feeling so great about cooking up a storm in the kitchen, to the point that I made a zucchini soufflé for the first time ever after just watching an episode of River Cottage a few days ago. It felt so decedent to sit down to a souffle for breakfast, made from the fruits of our own garden. I’m so hanging out for next weeks mail, I have starter cheese making kit arriving with all the necessary bits and pieces to make fetta and/or cottage cheese. 

I hope that the joys of our harvest continue to inspire and excite us in the future and never become hum-drum or “work”.