Friday, September 23, 2011


 French tarragon responds to spring after its winter dormancy

I know spring is nigh because my French tarragon has kicked into gear.

Here are a couple more reasons to be optimistic. The UN has begun advocating policies to support smallholder agriculture as a way to address world hunger. A recent report by the  FAO's (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), 'Policymaker's guide to the sustainable intensification of smallholder crop production', talks about a 'new paradigm of agriculture', 'sustainable crop production intensification (SCPI)', described as:
a productive agriculture that conserves and enhances natural resources. It uses an ecosystem approach that draws on nature’s contribution to crop growth – soil organic matter, water flow regulation, pollination and natural predation of pests – and applies appropriate external inputs at the right time, in the right amount. SCPI represents a major shift from the homogeneous model of crop production to knowledge-intensive, often location-specific, farming systems.

And the UN Environment Program has just released An Ecosystems Services Approach to Water and Food Security. Name says it all really - great stuff.

That's two good reasons to celebrate right there.

Which fetta is betta? 
After much humming and hawing, I finally succumbed to temptation and bought myself a cheese press. My rickety bamboo-steamer-with-large-rock edifice did the job OK on my first few batches of kefir fetta, but the resulting cheese was prone to disintegration once I took it out of the steamer after pressing and placed it in brine.
My old makeshift cheese press:  bamboo steamer with rock

Kefir fetta pressed with bamboo steamer press, brine and kefir whey solution (water 100%, salt 10%, kefir whey  12%). I cut the cheese up into small pieces because the round fell apart upon being put into the brine. 

My new press, the Seesy Cheese Press, is pretty simple to use and simple in construction - if you've got some construction nous you could probably make one at home with parts from the hardware store. Pressing time is reduced, and the fetta holds its form much better. Oh, and it looks more profesh.
Kefir fetta being pressed in my new Seesy Press. No, that's not bird droppings in jar lids in the background, its a soil structural stability test (very technical as you can see).
Round of kefir fetta pressed in the Seesy Press. Bewdiful!

There is not much to Kefir fetta, once you've got your Kefir yoghurt (labneh). I've written about the labneh making in an earlier post. To make the kefir fetta you just wrap the labneh in a clean cheesecloth bandage (I use dressmaking muslin from Spotlight) and then press it. After pressing, take it out and put it in a solution of 100% water, 10% salt, and 12% kefir whey. Kefir whey is the liquid that drains out when you're hanging your labneh. It should keep for up to two weeks in that brine. You can play around the proportions of salt and whey - 10% salt is quite salty. However, too little salt and you might find that the cheese won't keep as long. 

Next on the kefir list is kefir sour cream and kefir cultured butter, recipes courtesy of Dominic Anfiteatro's kefir website. Today I bought a log of Myrtleford salted cultured butter just to see what it tastes like and for eventual comparison purposes. I think I'll finally get to use the beautiful wooden butter churn my partner bought me years ago which even has the two butter paddles for patting the butter into a block. 

I also did some kefir economics recently. Organic fetta costs approx. $3.78/100g from the supermarket/healthfood shop. It costs me $1.40/100g to make organic kefir (from organic, unhomogenised milk). That's a saving of 63% In my kefir multipurposing quest, I've started to use the labneh in cooking in recipes that call for cream or sour cream. It has to be stabilised first, a fairly quick and easy process that requires an egg white and cornflour (or some other thickening flour like potato flour). Here's a simple explanation of how to do it.

Eating from the patches
Water chestnuts - tops browning off
In early August, I pulled the water chestnuts out of the bathtub where they'd been growing happily in pots, with the soil weighed down by small stones. I let the tops brown off and then in late August, harvested the chestnuts. I've actually never cooked with water chestnuts before, but remembering that sang choi bow has water chestnuts led me to one of my favourite recipe sites, Veggie Num Num and a recipe for a vegetarian version.

As regular readers will know, I'm a make-do kind of cook so I ditched the expensive shitake mushrooms. The result was nonethless tasty and the water chestnuts gave the fresh crunchiness that makes this dish pop.

To make the dish a meal, I went out into the garden and grabbed a handful of herbs, including coriander, parsley and watercress, and made some herb pancakes. These are best eaten with sweet chilli sauce. The herb pancakes are too easy, and can be frozen for 'ron. Make a simple dough with water, flour and salt, and let it sit in a warm place for a while. Roll the dough out into a long rectangle and sprinkle with chopped herbs. Roll the dough  up like a Swiss Roll, then chop thin slices of the roll and fry them in peanut oil. If you don't have peanut oil another light oil would do - olive oil won't work.
Vegetarian sang choi bow with herb pancakes
 Apart from potatoes, which always seem to pop up during weeding of the Peninsula patches, I've been harvesting some good looking beetroots. I've invented a tasty beetroot and fetta salad that can incorporate young broad beans when they're in season.
Beetroots from the Peninsula patches

Ingredients:  beetroot, fetta, onion (preferably spanish but you could use white or spring onions if that's what you've got), young broad beans (if in season, if not, you can leave them out), mint. Olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. 

Method: Put the beetroots into a dish with some water - there's no need to cover them, just have them sitting in the water - and microwave them for 10-15 mins or until soft. Slice them thinly. Shell your broadies and boil them until just tender but careful not to overcook them - a floury broad bean is a bad thing. To keep them tender, you can pop them in ice cold water. Thinly slice your onions. Chop up your mint roughly. Combine beetroot, broad beans, mint and onions in a salad bowl. Crumble the fetta over the top. Dress with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. 

This year, I haven't bothered harvesting all the jeruslaem artichokes on the Peninsula patches. Instead I've left them in the ground until I need them. Much easier than defrosting and handling frozen ones! I like to eat them raw - sliced thinly and dressed with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Or I put them into risottos, like the one simmering on the stove below, which also incorporates kale from the Peninsula patch.
Jeruslem artichoke, kale and mushroom risotto

 A work colleague told me about Ecocucina, a fabulous blog about cooking with scraps. Sounds dire, but its far from it. The author is a professional chef. How does fennel mousse with sesame seed and linseed grab them gourmet bones of yours?  

Swale loveliness 

On the swale, the pruned tagasastes have turned on a riot of flowers, attracting many many bees.
 Avocado flanked by flowering tagasastes on the west wing of the swale
West wing swale 

And here's the mulberry, mulched with prunings from a tree wormwood.
Spring approaches and there is so much to do. A compost tea application is definitely on the list, as is mulching the garlic and onions, which are going strong.
Garlic on the peninsula patch - jerusalem artichokes to the rear Marie Antoinette

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