#coronavirus- making kombucha

I don’t like soft drinks; something about the carbonated bubbles makes me avoid them. I do like to try new things (I’m adventurous with food); I happened to try kombucha one afternoon and to my surprise I loved the flavour. So I went looking for how to make it (because, while I may be adventurous, I am also cheap).

So I watched a few YouTube videos and read some blog posts about making Kombucha and how good for you it is. Then I found a local (ish) company that sells Kombucha kits, so of course I bought one.

How does kombucha work? The short answer is; the magic of fermentation. The sugars in the tea are converted to alcohol by the yeast community in the scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), then the bacteria in the scoby feed on the alcohol to produce a kind of vinegar. The tea also provides a little caffeine, tannins and other flavours to the brew. It is possible to make a kind of kombucha from oak leaves (but I haven’t tried that one yet). The scoby makes a new layer each time you make a batch of kombucha, and needs to be divided every now and then. It can be used to make fruit leathers, or a vegan leather substitute. It can also be given away to friends or used to start a new kombucha batch, or even used to make soap or other skin care products (I look forward to making scoby soap). After all that reading, I was excited to start making my own.

When the kit arrived in the mail, it contained a glass 8 litre jar with a plastic tap, a piece of closely woven fabric (and a rubber band), a bag of tea bags, some sugar and a sealed bag of slime (a scoby). Instructions were included and easy to follow.

I have made about 4 batches using this kit so far and it is an easy process that doesn’t require a lot of fiddling about. So I thought I would go through it here.

Before beginning the process of bottling kombucha, boil the kettle and make a strong pot of tea. I have only used black tea so far, but apparently you can also use green tea and white tea (any tea without flavourings is OK). This pot of tea needs to steep for a few minutes until it is very strong. I use 9 tea bags per batch and I make it in the coffee plunger so I can squeeze the tea bags and get the last of the dregs from them.

When the tea is steeped enough, I pour it into a bowl and mix in 3/4 of a cup of raw sugar. Apparently you can use any kind of sugar (and even honey) as long as the yeast has enough sugar to convert to alcohol (and then to vinegar). The sugar needs to be dissolved completely, so I give the tea a mix with a spoon and set it aside to cool a bit while I bottle the previous batch.

I was lucky enough to be given a supply of those lovely Grolsch beer bottles by a friend (Thanks Lucille), they are perfect for making kombucha in. I wash and disinfect 8 of these bottles, including scrubbing the little rubber seals on the stopper. I pour some fruit juice into each bottle; I have tried orange juice, apple and black current juice and now mango juice. In the future I will try ginger and other herb teas (with sugar) and maybe some fresh juiced fruit from our trees (mulberry springs to mind). The possibilities here are endless, as long as there is some sugar in the flavouring it will make bubbles in the brew.

Now for the moment of truth; bottling the brew. The tap on the bottom of the jar is very useful here, I just fill each bottle almost to the top using the tap. I leave the scoby in the jar and fill bottles until the scoby is sitting about level to the tap (for me that is 8 bottles). These bottles are sealed and set aside in my kitchen cupboard for 2 days, then moved to the fridge or given away to friends. I do label the bottles (mostly because I give them away to friends).

Now to top up the brewer for the next batch. I add another 2 litres of cold water to the sweet tea in the bowl to cool the lot down to body temperature, then pour it into the top of the brewer. Sometimes I need to top up the jar with a bit more water.

The new brew then sits quietly on the kitchen counter next to the sourdough until next week. The brew time varies with the daily temperature and with individual taste preferences.

The finished product is a lovely sparkling, fruit flavoured drink that is apparently good for digestion and internal bacteria balance (with occasional globs of gelatinous pre-scoby). I pour my kombucha into the glass through a tea strainer to remove the inevitable little bits of slime (they are harmless, but gross).

Now I have made a few batches, I have some scoby extras to play with; I’m not sure what to try first, but if you are a local and want to have a go brewing kombucha, leave a comment here and I will eventually get a scoby to you.

#coronavirus- A new vegan butter recipe for baking

I have to say it…I am loving the extra time at home gifted by the pandemic. It seems there are a lot of people finding it hard to stay home and stay away from other people, and a lot of people are in risky situations daily; I feel for those people, but I don’t feel the stress they seem to be feeling. The loss of life and the fear aside, this has been a positive experience for me so far. I have found myself pausing to enjoy life more often, taking time to watch the sun rise and set, to watch the insects in the plants in the garden and to enjoy the company of all the small creatures around me. I have had time to work on home projects that have been sitting idle for a long time (some of them, a very long time) and time to fiddle around in the kitchen too. Yesterday I made the easiest vegan butter ever, for baking with.

I really wanted to make some chocolate chip biscuits, the thought wouldn’t leave my mind while I fed animals and pulled weeds. I didn’t have any butter in the fridge (we don’t use it much any more) and the biscuits made with oil always seem a bit odd tasting to me.

So….I made a batch of vegan butter to bake with. This butter is a little different to my usual recipe. The usual recipe uses coconut oil as the fat component, I was out of refined coconut oil, so I wondered if I could substitute another oil (the answer is ‘yes, you can’). I also didn’t have any lecithin and I wondered if it was strictly necessary (the answer is ‘no, not really’), so the resulting quick batch of vegan butter was whipped up and baked into choc chip biscuits in no time at all.

I started with a cup full of almonds that I ground up in the blender as fine as possible (this turned out less fine than I wanted, but still workable).

I added the other ingredients to the almond mash;

1 cup soy milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup vegetable oil (rice bran and olive oils this time)

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

I blended this lot up for about a minute and when I stopped it had become butter.

The consistency is soft, like a really thick sauce, and it needs to be refrigerated for a few hours to be usable as a spread.

I just measured it out into my biscuit dough and made my long awaited choc chip biscuits.

They were yummy!!!

The green sheets are my new silicon baking sheets. They are completely washable and reusable. I hope these will allow me to stop using baking paper, and give me one less item to buy in the supermarket.

A new kitchen for the humpy and the house

The cupboard above fell to pieces.

One of our old kitchen cupboards fell apart; it was a third hand, patched up old thing, but it served us well for many years. Instead of patching it up again, I decided to go with the option we had identified for the house (when it is finally built); a garage storage system. We can use the storage system in the humpy, then move it to the house when it is finished.

Instead of spending thousands on a chipboard, prefabricated kitchen for the round house (which wouldn’t really fit anyway), we decided to go with stainless steel storage modules. So I went online and found some reasonable options. To be fair, the prices were only reasonable if you factored in the decades of service we expect from this kitchen.

The delivery truck came right out to the humpy; a total unknown experience for courier companies up until this week. Usually we have to take a trailer in to the local town to pick up anything delivered ‘to the door’ by courier companies. He unloaded the flat pack boxes and drove away fast, no doubt vowing to never deliver out of town again.

We got to work putting the cupboards and bench together in between bush fire preparation and animal care, and managed to get everything sorted and put away with only two days work.

My partner un packing the first box
The inevitable pause to read the instructions and puzzle over what language they are written in.
Putting the bench together
The panels and little packets of screws were leaned up against every surface.
The bench and two rolling cupboards with timber tops put together and filled with kitchen stuff. Then the old cupboards were taken out and the contents stacked all over the kitchen while we put the new one together.
Part of the old cupboards were cut down to give us even more stacking space in the new cupboard.
All sorted and put away. I managed to get rid of a few things from the old cupboard, but not as much as I had hoped.
This is the big cupboard with the doors shut.
A new stainless steel bench to fill up with washing up.
Notice the coffee and wine bar; I painted an old book case with the purple and gold paint left over from painting the bin system and stacked our coffee and tea on it. Then I thought I may as well keep the wine there too.
I haven’t had kitchen draws for years, it is nice to be able to put things away in draws like a normal person.
Doesn’t the cutlery look neat…so far.
The biogas stove has a new shelf and it is going so well we sometimes have to think up things to cook with it just to use the gas. We are thinking about getting another gas bladder to collect all the extra gas we are currently losing.

I am really looking forward to cooking in this new kitchen space. It feels clean and fresh. The space seems much bigger in there now too.

Making bean brownies

In my quest to use more of our Madagascar beans I found a recipe for black bean muffins. I thought I would try them with half black beans and half Madagascar bean. In this recipe I used half a cup of Madagascar beans soaked then boiled for 20 minutes and one can of black beans. This added a bit of volume to the recipe, but didn’t change the texture at all.

Dried beans need a lot of cooking to get rid of the gas-making qualities and to minimise the ‘beaniness’ of the flavour. I really wish I had a wood stove so I could have legumes simmering away at the back of the stove without using gas.

Madagascar beans looking pretty in their jar.

Black Bean Muffins recipe (the original from the link)

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 ounce) can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 eggs*
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (or sub honey)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon brewed coffee, optional to enhance chocolate flavor
  • 1/2 cup high-quality unsweetened cocoa powder (or use cacao powder)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling on top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with baking liners and spray the inside of each liner with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Place black beans and 1 egg in food processor and process until beans are well blended. Add two other eggs, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla and coffee; process again until smooth. Next add in cocoa powder, baking powder and salt; process once more until smooth. Next fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips.
  3. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips evenly among the tops of each muffin batter. Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffins comes out clean. Place on wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove muffins from tin and transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Keep muffins for a day at room temperature, then transfer to fridge and place in an airtight container.

I decided to cook the brownies in a slice tray, because I didn’t have any muffin papers and I never follow instructions to the letter anyway.

All the ingredients except the Madagascar beans; they are boiling on the stove.

Of course I used more eggs than the recipe demands (my daughter is away, so I can use up eggs to my heart’s content).

This is what the beans look like blended with an egg

Don’t be alarmed (like I was) if you get to the pouring point and you have what appears to be a bean and chocolate shake. The liquid nature of the mix made me panic a bit, but it firmed up nicely once in the oven.

All ready to pour
Yum

Well, this one is a hit. It tastes good, is full of fibre and protein, it uses some of my home grown food plants, it tips it’s hat at being healthy (sort of) and did I say it tastes good?

While I was searching, I also found these recipes to try…

Chickpea brownie mix

Bean fudge

Making nut milks- soy milk

I thought it was time to give DIY soy milk a go; it is cheaper to make than to buy and my partner has swapped over to soy now because dairy milks are giving him heart burn. My eldest daughter has been using non-dairy milks for a long time (she has an allergy to animal proteins) and I seem to go between the two extremes. While I don’t enjoy the flavour of meat at all, I do LOVE milks, cheeses and yogurts (and I miss milking my cow) but I also like the plant based alternatives just as much.

I found some interesting options for making the milk; the first is a straight forward method that involves boiling, blending, filtering and heating the soy beans. The second is a brief video showing how to pulp the soy beans without a blender. I thought I might cheat and use the blender for this one, but it is comforting to know that I can make it without the fancy tools.

My first attempt at this milk went like this;

First, I soaked a cup of soy beans in water overnight. The next morning they were swollen up and ready to blend.

The ratio of soy to water is anywhere between 1:4 to 1:9, I chose to use the middle ground of 1:6. This means that I will end up with close to 1.5 litres of milk from 1 cup of raw beans. To begin this process, I added 3 cups of water to my soaked and drained beans and blended them for an epoch (well…2 minutes or so).

Then I strained them through a nut milk bag (basically a jelly bag if you are into making jams and such).

The pulp left in the bag can be used to make all sorts of things (including soy flour).

Next I poured the juice into a thick bottomed saucepan and added 3 more cups of water. This lot was then heated to the boil while stirring periodically (while I cleaned the kitchen of soy juice flecks). I kept it at a low boil for about 15 minutes, skimming off the froth as I went (and making new soy juice flecks in the kitchen). During this time I got distracted and let the pot boil over a little bit. Soy milk is a real pain to clean off the stove top.

As I stirred, I skimmed off the froth.

After it all cooled off a bit I poured the milk into a container and put it in the fridge. I can use this milk for cereals, drinking (with vanilla added), add to coffee (for my partner) and for cooking.

As it cools the milk forms a skin. I poured it through a makeshift sieve funnel.
The makeshift sieve funnel
My first 1.5 litres of soy milk.
We had a nice chai latte to celebrate. It was good.

Now for the cleaning up…again.

Maybe I can try making tofu at home too in the future.

Preserving eggs for winter

 

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We have a lot of old girls in our flock; I feel that a life time of service providing eggs, compost and weeding shouldn’t be rewarded with death when laying starts to wane. We always have a few younger hens coming up to lay too though, so our egg production during peak spring laying is about five eggs per day from a total of ten adult hens. Five eggs a day is just too many for our needs these days, there being only two of us most of the time (and my daughter can’t eat eggs, even when she is home). So I have been looking for ways to preserve eggs for years now.

I haven’t found anything remotely workable before, but this technique looks like my style; easy, cheap and effective. Water-glassing is a method which uses good old chemistry to seal the shell of an egg and prevent bacteria from penetrating the shell and causing it to go bad. I found a particularly good recipe for making water-glass (this version is actually lime water, but apparently they are all called water-glass) here. 

Most sites and books seem to state that the lime chemically seals the shell of the egg so that no oxygen or bacteria can get in and this preserves the eggs for up to eight months or so (some sites say twelve months). For this reason it is very important to make sure your eggs are clean, with no mud or chook poop on them, it is also really important to not wash the natural protective layer off the egg before preserving. All the older sources recommend having your lime solution ready to go and placing eggs into it each day as they come in from the chook pen.

Water-glassing solution

30g hydrated lime (slaked lime)

1 litre clean water

Combine water and lime, pour into a light proof container with a lid. Carefully place clean unwashed eggs into solution and store in a cool place.

Eggs will keep for 8 months.

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I will leave this dozen eggs here on the bench until January or so. Look forward to an update when I open the first preserved egg. This could be one very smelly experiment.

Sourdough scones

 

 

Against all possible predictions and probabilities, the sourdough starter is still alive. It has been used regularly and is now kept in the fridge between baking days. I have been making a loaf of bread every week or so, as it is only me who eats it; my partner says it gives him heart burn and my daughter doesn’t enjoy the taste. I have also made the odd other thing with it; muffins, brownies and pikelets, even doughnuts. Now I thought it was time to try scones.

The usual caliber of scones I create ranges from inedible to…interesting as a building material and possibly bullet proof. I am hoping that these will be different. I found a recipe that looks good on this blog; Passion fruit garden.

Basic recipe

Scones:

  • 1½ cups sifted all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda (bicarb soda) (The recipe said ½ tsp if starter is quite sour.  For my first batch, I used the ½ tsp because my starter was well and truly dead!)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 cup starter.

 Method:

  1. Sift all the dry ingredients together.
  2. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the starter and mix.  As mentioned above, I had to add some milk as my dough was too dry.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board.
  5. Knead only long enough to form a smooth dough.
  6. Press out dough to about 2 cm deep.
  7. Use a scone cutter to cut out scones.
  8. Put scones onto a tray lined with baking paper.
  9. Brush scones with milk.
  10. Let scones rest for one hour.
  11. Bake for 12 minutes at 200°C.

 

Of course with my daughter being almost totally vegan now I decided to substitute vegetable oil for the butter, other than that I just followed the recipe. It made six large scones, I think I will make a double or even treble batch next time.

 

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The resulting scones taste good but they look like flat rocks. They crumbled as I tried to cut them too. I think that is because of the oil for butter substitution. Next batch I will use the vegan spread we use for butter.

Update; I tried a batch with real butter, just to see how it would go. They turned out ok, but nothing spectacular. I think I need more practice at this…my losing streak when it comes to scones continues.

Making kumquat marmalade

Many years ago..(in fact the amount of years qualifies for a ‘Once upon a time..” beginning), my mother gave me a kumquat tree in a pot (for my 21st birthday). This little tree was lovingly tended and repotted as needed for a few years but never bore fruit. When we moved to another state I couldn’t take the tree with me so I left it at my in-laws house. My father-in-law (Henceforth known as Dad) planted it out in his yard and the little tree grew like a weed. It began to bear fruit in the second year in the ground and Dad dutifully picked the fruit and either gave it away or gave it to us when we were visiting as he didn’t like the taste of them.

So for years I have been collecting about 15kg of Kumquats once a year and making marmalade. We are not huge jam eaters in my house, so the little pots of distilled sunlight mostly became gifts and sale items on my market stalls.

I thought I would share my simple recipe with you;

Beautiful little orbs

My first step is to wash and chop the fruit; I take as many seeds as I see out as I go, but alway miss a few.

Chopped and deseeded

 Next I weigh the fruit and add two litres of water to every two kilos of fruit. I use a stainless steel boiler to make my jam as it has high sides and a heavy bottom.

Weighing the chopped fruit.

 The fruit and water mixture is boiled for about 20 minutes, or until the fruit is soft. At this stage I scoop any seeds out as they rise to the top of the water.

Fruit in the boiler with water.

The fruit all cooked and smelling lovely.

 When the fruit is cooked I gradually stir in one kilo of sugar to every kilo of fruit (weighed before cooking). You have to be careful to dissolve the sugar fully at this stage, so lots of stirring is required.

Jam boiling away, 

The jam needs to simmer away for a while to get it to set. The time required varies, but you can check for set by periodically dripping some jam onto a cold saucer and looking for gelling. When the jam is ready to set the drip will not run when the plate is tilted and it gets crinkles on the top when poked at.

The jam should be bottled into sterilised jars (I wash the jars then ‘cook’ them in the oven for 15 minutes) while it is still hot. Use jars with metal lids and put the lids on straight away to encourage a good seal.

Lots of little jars of sunlight, ready to be stored, sold or given away.

This year I also made some Kumquat liqueur by popping the chopped fruit into bottles of vodka. These bottles will be squirreled away until 2016 when they will be shared with reverence at a Yule party (or similar).

Some Kumquat liqueur aging slowly. 

This marmalade is a little runny (which would improve if I added a lemon to the mix) but has a wonderful sweet/tart taste that goes well with toast, on roasting pork or chicken and can be used as a topping for cakes and slices.

Making pasta sauce

The tomatoes in the Hugelkultur bed have been supplying us with yummy Roma tomatoes for some time now and we have added them to most lunches and dinners (and the occasional breakfast), we are all at the ‘I don’t like tomatoes any more’ stage, reached at some point in every harvest season when there is a glut. Therefore, I decided (this morning) to make some pasta sauce and bottle it using my trusty but under utilized Fowlers Vacola (FV) unit. That way we can have our tomatoes to eat in the winter when we are all craving them. I decided to use glass jars with metal lids (the ones you buy pasta sauce in in the supermarket) instead of the traditional FV jars because the FV jars I own are all huge (1 litre is the smallest) and we use our pasta sauce in small lots so the smaller jars are more practical for us.

A bucket of Roma tomatoes from the garden

Stage one of the Hugelkultur beds cleared and waiting for a compost top up and mulch before replanting.

I found a fairly easy recipe for tomato pasta sauce that can be preserved using the water bath method. The recipe below has been copied from the Brisbane Local Food site and changed only slightly. The link in the title will take you to the original post.

Home made pasta sauce
Makes 1.5 cups

You need a large non stick frying pan or a wok and a stick blender

1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
500g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8 sprigs of basil, oregano or mint
sea salt, ground black pepper. About 2/3 tsp of salt per 1 1/2 cups of sauce is recommended.

Heat oil to medium heat, add onion and bay leaf, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until onion is softened but hardly coloured. Add tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Cover, cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until tomatoes have collapsed. Add seasonings and blend until the sauce is a pleasing consistency and you are ready to bottle.

Preserving
Put sauce into clean, sterilised jars with good lids that will vacuum seal. If the pulp is still really hot, put a sterilised spoon in the jar before filling to prevent cracking. Place jars in a water bath up to their necks and bring the temperature up to 93.3 degrees Celsius (or 200 degrees Fahrenheit).
Hold at this temperature for two hours. Remove from the preserving pan and press down the lids to encourage vacuum sealing.

N.B. The Fowlers Vacola manual states that unless you use all their gear they won’t be held responsible for these instructions being no good.

The chopping begins
But not before they get a good wash
Pasta bottles; found, de-labeled and washed by my eldest daughter (thanks hon)
The sauce; boiled, seasoned and blended, ready to bottle.
My good old FV stove top unit. Isn’t she a beauty?
The bottles in their bath, all carefully positioned so they don’t touch each other or the sides. Fowlers Vacola frowns on touching in the bath.
The final result; six yummy bottles of pasta sauce. I had better label them before I forget what they are though.

I want to do more preserving, it’s so much fun.