Wednesday

Kefir Ginger Ale




I am always on the lookout for good ideas. When an article in a recent Grass Roots magazine (GR211) mentioned making ginger ale with kefir powder or whey, my curiosity was peaked. Off to the local health food store I trotted and came away with a kefir culture along with a packet of kefir powder.

The process of making ginger ale has evolved over time. I started out mixing a sachet of kefir powder along with two tablespoons of chopped ginger, a tablespoon of honey and enough water to almost fill the 950 ml jar. Stir the honey in, loosely cap the jar, let the mix sit for a few days and then strain out the now fermented chopped ginger which can be used in my cooking. The lovely light taste of the ginger ale was delicious

To start off the next batch, add a quarter cup of the ginger ale to a clean 950 ml jar with again two tablespoons of chopped ginger, a tablespoon of honey and fill with water. I continued to follow the instructions on the kefir powder packet which mentioned that inoculating a new batch with a quarter cup of the ginger ale could be done three more times, resulting in close to 5 litres of ginger ale.

I felt okay about this process, except that there was a lot of residue at the bottom of the bottle, so I searched the web for alternative processes and then remembered that kefir whey could be used instead of the powder. Fortunately, at times I have generated a significant amount of kefir whey while making my kefir, some of which I have been able to use to start a ginger ale batch

The process is similar. Mix a quarter cup of kefir whey along with two tablespoons of chopped ginger, one tablespoon of honey and enough water to almost fill the 950 ml jar. I let the mix sit for a few days and soon noticed that it didn’t look quite right with large bubbles appearing on the surface. Once again, Google was my friend by suggesting that ginger ale made with kefir whey only needed to sit on the bench for 24 hours before storing in the fridge.

At the same time I was experimenting with kefir ginger ale, I was also making kefir yoghurt. I saw how easy it was to make more kefir, just by placing the last half cup of kefir into a jar and pouring a litre of milk into the jar. After 24 hours, the kefir was ready and could be placed in the fridge.

One day when I had run out of kefir whey and powder, I decided to try this method with the ginger ale. I used the same process as before but this time added the last quarter cup of the current ginger ale batch instead of using kefir whey, and it worked. Now I can wait until I have almost finished the current batch of ginger ale before starting off the next batch as I only need to wait 24 hours for it to be ready for consumption.

I always make sure to use the dregs from the bottom rather than a quarter cup of what I would normally drink as using the dregs produces a better batch. An added benefit is that from the second and subsequent batches there are no longer milk particles floating in the mix as whey has not been added to these batches. If for some reason I cannot use the last of a ginger ale batch to start off the next, then I can just extract some whey from my kefir.

I think this is brilliant. With both the kefir and the ginger ale, I now just wait until either is getting low and use a small amount of what is left to start off the next batch. It’s too easy!

Quick Fix: Every Occasion by Alyce Alexandra



It has been a while since I trawled through a cookbook. Blame it on a busy life with too many commitments, or perhaps I needed to coast for a while. But now I have the perfect book to refocus my attention.


 I am reading Quick Fix:Every Occasion by Alyce Alexandra with recipes specially designed for the Thermomix. I love the concept of a quick fix as it ties in so neatly with simplifying my life. This cookbook is sure to help as many recipes can be completed and on the table in less than 30 minutes.
 
First cab off the rank has been the Zucchini Cupcakes recipe which encouraged me to play with extra flavourings. All I bought was a zucchini as I had the remaining ingredients or easy replacements. A little too much kefir yoghurt in lieu of sour cream made the mix a little too moist but resulted in delicious cupcakes with the addition of pecans contributing to the richer flavour.



After the nice light taste of the zucchini cupcakes, next I played with the Spicy Pork Balls recipe. Despite careful weighing, I managed to add a titch too much liquid again which led to a fortuitous discovery. While the pork balls were in the oven, I cooked some leftover mix in a frying pan. I have made rissoles in the past with limited success because they never held their shape. But this recipe mix worked beautifully in the frying pan which means that I can now add rissoles as an option for my dinner. Eating the balls with a dipping sauce was a pleasure with the herbs and other condiments combining to produce a tasty treat.


I have often enjoyed some cooked quinoa with fruit for breakfast. So imagine my delight when I found the Quinoa Salad recipe and realised that I had all the ingredients on hand, with the slight adjustment of replacing parsley with young celery leaves. My taste test went down well with the addition of nuts and dried fruit providing bursts of flavour along with a refreshing tang from the mandarin segments.


The cookbook is a delight to browse through with recipes grouped in three different ways at the beginning of the book to assist with meal planning.  All angles are covered with special symbols used to highlight dairy free, gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options. Clear instructions along with a photo opposite each recipe help make the decision to indulge. Alyce’s recipes provide a memorable taste sensation while combining familiar foods. This cookbook is a keeper.

For more details about Alyce's cookbook, visit the website: Alyce Alexandra Cookbooks

Vegetarian Sausage Rolls











In the early 1990's, I took a few vegetarian cooking classes through Sanitarium and was delighted to find this vegetarian version of a favourite food. I have made this recipe a number of times over the years, because it is an easy choice when vegetarian friends are visiting and the rolls taste just like the real thing bought from a bakery.

Being a Thermomix fan, of course I converted Sanitarium’s Country Cottage Rolls recipe from their 1994 recipe brochure, and with a few minor modifications, the recipe is available on their webpage below.

Ingredients
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup pecans
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1 slice bread broken into bite-size pieces and dried in the oven on the lowest setting – should supply about ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup quick cooking or rolled oats
  • 3 sheets reduced-fat canola puff pastry
  • 1 tablespoon milk for glazing
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)

Method
1 Process bread pieces, oats and pecans on speed 6 for 10 seconds. Set aside in a bowl.
2 Process eggs, onion, soy sauce and cottage cheese on speed 6 for 10 seconds. Add to bowl with dry ingredients and mix.
3 Cut each pastry sheet in half and spoon mixture along one edge. Brush other edge with soymilk. Roll to enclose filling with pastry and repeat with remaining pastry sheets. 

4 Cut each log into 6 even lengths. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in a hot oven, 200°C, for 40 minutes or until crisp and golden.

Sanitarium's Country Cottage Rolls recipe:-

These rolls go very nicely with a Thermomix version of Heinz's tomato sauce which can be found here:-
http://www.forumthermomix.com/index.php?topic=10013.0

Friday

Kefir


For the past six months I have been playing with kefir. I read an article about making ginger ale in a Grass Roots magazine (GR211) and decided this could be fun. The article suggested that the ale could be made with kefir powder or grains. Since it appeared that grains were only available online, I decided to search for the powder.

When I visited my local health food store, I was offered a kefir milk culture. I hesitated as I have always considered myself lactose intolerant, but then curiosity got the better of me. So I walked away with the culture along with a packet of kefir powder sachets.

The kefir milk culture is amazing as it provides an easy way to make yoghurt. If a friend offers a kefir culture, I recommend accepting it. Put the culture into a glass bottle and pour in a litre of milk.  Loosely cap the bottle and after 24 hours store the bottle in the fridge, still loosely capped. Start a new batch by placing ½ cup of the remaining kefir into a clean bottle and repeat the steps.

I let the first batch sit on the counter for a few days. By this time, the mix had separated into curds and whey. It was an early lesson on what not to do with kefir, and now the mix is always placed in the fridge around the 24 hour mark. However, it is helpful to know how to make a serious amount of whey if needed for a recipe.

The mix continues fermenting while sitting in the fridge so it is important to loosely cap the bottle. I have two jars with lids that easily pop up if the pressure mounts which means that the lid is often loose when I take the kefir bottle out of the fridge. Just about every article or blog I read about kefir mentions the possibility of closed jars exploding so I avoid any activity that could lead to this.

When to start the next batch depends on how quickly the current batch is consumed. Since it can take me up to three weeks to get through all of the kefir, I wait until I have just over ½ cup remaining in the bottle which allows enough to start the next batch along with a small amount to use on my meals over the next 24 hours. 

Over time, my technique has evolved. I strain out any whey from the kefir starter through muslin before adding the milk, and now ensure that I use fresh milk. I believe that both of these steps guard against the resulting mix separating into curds and whey.

Google has been a helpful resource as I test out different methods for making the kefir. Some people recommend using raw milk while others succeed with any type of milk including long life and nut milks. It appears that just about anything can work which is good for those adventurous souls who like to try out new ideas.

I have a small bunch of what could be kefir grains that I look out for when starting the next batch. Fortunately their weight holds them at the bottom of the bottle so I just ensure that I scoop them up when I collect the kefir starter. It surprises me that my bunch of grains (if they are that) hasn’t grown in size. In fact, their size has diminished. I put this down to it being such a long time between making new batches.

I am somewhat chuffed that I have kept the culture alive for so many months. I have played with cultures in the past including sourdough bread and Amish Friendship Cake, and soon caved because it took so much time. I seem to have done a complete turnaround as I am enjoying the process along with my experiments making ginger ale which I’ll talk about next time.

Sunday

Letter to Grass Roots' Feedback section



The Grass Roots magazine has included this letter about making these plastic bags in the Feedback section of their latest issue.

Thursday

Beetroot and Chocolate Mini Muffins











Beetroot is so versatile. I first grew to love boiled beetroot in a salad. No vinegar was needed. I even pilched it from the container in the fridge as a tasty treat.

Once my Thermomix arrived, I found new ways to enjoy this vegetable: as a pudding with chocolate both cooked and raw, as hummus, and even served to me as coleslaw.

My latest version is beetroot and chocolate mini muffins achieved with minor tweaks to my simplified mini muffins recipe as below. Another difference in this recipe is that I now use spelt flour in my muffin recipes. Of course, the type of flour used is a personal choice.

Recipe Ingredients:
1 cup spelt flour
1 1/3 tsp cream of tartar with 2/3 tsp baking soda
1 tsp mixed spice
3 tbsp sugar
--- The above ingredients can be stored together in a container in the fridge for days or weeks before you need them. If you prefer to sift the flour, cream of tartar and baking soda then do this before adding the mixed spice and sugar.
1 1/2 cups combination of beetroot chopped, chocolate pieces and orange zest
1 egg
3 tbsp olive oil
5/8 cup orange juice
Method:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease mini muffin tray(s) – one large tray for 24 mini muffins or two smaller trays for 12 mini muffins each. 
Process beetroot, chocolate and orange zest in Thermomix on speed 5 for a few seconds.
Sift flour, cream of tartar and baking soda into a separate bowl. Mix in all other ingredients until combined. 
Spoon mixture into the muffin pans
Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through. In a non-fan forced oven turn the muffin trays around in the oven after 7 or 8 minutes. Cool in pan(s) for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a plate or wire rack.
I just can’t get enough of the beetroot and chocolate combination. If I have over calculated the beetroot and chocolate quantities, it’s not a problem. The resulting mix makes a tasty dessert in its own right.

Saturday

Carob Fudge












I have just made my last batch of Raw Shortbread. While I have enjoyed eating these sweet balls, I am not sure that I’ll buy any more lucuma powder after paying more than $20 for 250 grams in 2009. So it’s just as well that I have some carob powder languishing in my pantry which has combined with the leftover almond meal to make balls tasting just like fudge.Since making the raw shortbread was such a breeze, I used a similar approach for the carob fudge. 

Recipe ingredients:
1/2 cup almond meal
2 tbsp carob powder heaped
2 tbsp honey

Instructions:
Blend in the Thermomix on speed 6 for 30 seconds.

As the time reached the 30 second mark there was a distinct change in the sound of the blades processing the mix which indicated that the mixture was close to being ready. The sound comes from the mix starting to clump together. To test the mix I tried forming a ball from a small handful which worked perfectly.   

In the past I have ground up any nuts required for sweet treat recipes. While I am still happy to do this, I was able to buy some ground almond meal at my local Flannery’s and have enjoyed making both the raw shortbread and almond fudge with fewer steps.

I have always had a sweet tooth which is sometimes satisfied by purchased health bars. In the past week reaching into the fridge for a raw shortbread ball a few times during the day has hit the mark. Each ball has a rich enough taste for me to only want one at each sitting. I’m hoping this new habit will stick around.

Monday

Raw and Beyond

I remain interested in raw food even though I probably only eat half of my food raw. There are some foods that are so much easier to digest in their cooked form, including potatoes and some of the crunchier vegetables like broccoli and cabbage.

Hence my interest when I found the book Raw & Beyond by Victoria Boutenko, Elaina Love and Chad Sarno. They initially discuss their experiences with raw food which led them to adopt a high raw approach to their meals by including some cooked foods.

I can understand how they have arrived at this position. In my brief foray into playing with raw gourmet recipes, I found some of the resulting creations were a little too strong or sweet for my taste buds.  While I enjoyed a subsequent dalliance with the 80/10/10 diet, feeling great after multiple high fruit meals, I found it difficult to continue with the diet although I still enjoy a moderate fruit intake.

So it has been fascinating to touch base with where these raw foodists are at now. Of particular interest has been the extensive range of recipes which support their high raw approach.

Early in the recipes section, I noticed instructions for making Merlot Pickled Onions which I prepared and have been enjoying over the last couple of days. Out of curiousity, I googled the recipe name and found it on this web site with the note that the recipe has been reprinted by permission of the publisher. This is appreciated as the recipe provides a simple approach to a task that can sometimes feel a little complex.

I am looking forward to checking through the rest of the recipes in this book in my search for little gems. Finding this book has sparked my interest in playing with alternative approaches to raw foods. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

Going Organic

I have been growing tomatoes and greens hydroponically on my patios for the past six years. Tomatoes grow well on my north-facing patios because they receive enough sun during winter and I'm more than happy to take a break over summer.

Last year I bought some cherry tomato and grape tomato seedlings and grew them in tubs connected to two Smart-Valve MK2 hydroponics systems. The seedlings were planted in perlite and fed from 25 litre tanks replenished with rainwater. After lackluster yields over the two previous years and an extended rainy season last year, I didn't think it was worth planting tomatoes until May and June which was later than I had started previously. It also took a while for good seedlings to become available after the Brisbane floods.

In previous years I had added hydroponics nutrient to the tanks but last year grew my tomatoes organically. Some organic fish emulsion and seaweed spray were purchased. When these were used up I tried worm tea from my worm farm along with the liquid from vegetable and fruit scraps blended with water. Both varieties of tomatoes grew to a larger size than normal and were a welcome addition to my lunch time salads.

I will do the same again this year in feeding my vegetables with a combination of worm tea and blended scraps liquid. My worms are the happy recipients of the residue and seem to get through the blended scraps quicker than roughly chopped scraps. I try to avoid letting any of the solids from the worm tea into the Smart-Valve systems as this might  block the flow although this was easily fixed the one time it happened by detaching and shaking the piping to remove the obstruction.

I now feel like I am practicing true recycling with the blended residue going into the worm farm and the resulting worm tea then feeding the vegetables that I grow, and scraps from what I grow going back into the worm farm. Best of all, I am finally growing my veggies organically which feels great.

Postscript: In addition to feeding my vegetables with worm tea and blended scraps liquid, I have ended up also applying organic fish emulsion and seaweed spray as the plants were not growing as well as last year. Ah well, sometimes my experiments work and other times not...

Thursday

Facials on the Run


Smiling has always been my thing. I’ll break into a smile with the least provocation. Now I see the results on my face.

I know smile lines are a good thing. They and other facial lines reflect our inner state as our emotions register on our faces. My smile lines can stay as long as they like although I won’t stop looking for a facial eraser.

Would you believe that my best defense is using the humble egg? Whenever I crack an egg into a fry pan or bowl, I scoop the remaining egg white from the shells and spread it over my face. Later after I wash off the egg white, my face feels lovely and smooth.
  
There is an even better result if I keep my face still. I can almost feel it tightening my skin as the egg white dries which validates the egg’s “natural facial” label.

I have heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Fortunately I am long past that time as applying the remaining egg white to my face is now an automatic response after cracking an egg. My skin has never felt so good!