Thursday, 4 May 2017

Potato Rosti

As I wrote in the Potato Cakes blog, I used half of my 'damaged' potatoes to make Rosti.

I've seen many variations on recipes for these.  Some as simple as grated potato and some containing plenty of egg and flour.  I've seen failures on cooking competition tv programmes, where the Chef Judges' comments explained that washing the grated potato removes the starch that glues them together.

This recipe also comes from my old cookbook where I've gathered recipes over that past 25 years.

I didn't have any bacon, instead I used finely chopped onion.  I also cooked them in silicon egg rings so that I could keep some size consistency.  When they'd cooled, I freeflow froze them and then put them into a bag in the freezer.

You will notice a distinct lack of measurements.  That's because they don't really matter.  Obviously, you're not going to make a rosti that's 90% bacon.

Potato Rosti

Smoked Bacon (diced)
salt and pepper

Boil potatoes for 10 mins.  Grate coarsely and add bacon and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat oil in frypan and cook spoonfuls of potato for 10 mins each side.

Rosti cooking in silicon egg rings

Cooked Rosti cooling before going into the freezer

Potato Cakes

The harvest has been continuing and I've been digging up potatoes.

We've been quite surprised at how many we got in the end.  Water was an issue for most of the summer, I didn't mound them up as high or as well as I'd intended to and the chooks kept getting into the garden and scratching them over.

I've been going through them, washing the dirt off, spreading them out to dry before weighing them (just for my own curiosity), grading them and putting them into storage.

I found more than I expected that I'd stabbed or split with the fork when digging them up.  I also found quite a few diseased patches.  I've just done a google search and found the disease I was seeing is called Common Scab and would not have affected the way they store.  I pulled out these damaged potatoes, initially thinking that we'd just cook them up and eat them first, but the volume was getting to be more than we'd normally eat in a week so today I went looking for things I could do with them to be able to freeze and use them later.

I split them in half and made Potato Rosti and Potato Cakes.

I don't remember where I got the recipe for Potato Cakes from, it was hand written into my old cookbook at least 20 years ago.  Below is the basic recipe, I trebled it today.  I don't recommend doing this unless you have a commercial sized mixer and commercial oven.  It took me hours to get them all cooked.
These are gluten free so they tend not to brown, but they are cooked.

Potato Cakes

225g Self-raising Flour
350g Cold mashed potato
100g butter
1 tbsp milk
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 230°C.  Sift flour into a bowl, add butter and rub in until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in seasoning, potato and milk until a firm dough is formed.  Roll out the dough on a floured board and cut into 3" rounds using a plain biscuit cutter and place on a greased baking tray.

Bake or 10-15mins until golden brown.  Serve piping hot, split in half carefully and spread generously with butter.

A Flood of Ferrets

With our first lot of chickens, we had a ferret attack.  In the space of a week, we went from having 15 hens to having 3.  We had been losing one a night and I'd seen a ferret so we went out and bought a ferret trap.

The trap is a live capture trap, with a ramp on a pivot so that once the ferret is past halfway, the ramp tilts and a pin drops down to keep it tilted that way and the ferret (or whatever else you might have caught) can't get back out.  Then depending on what you've caught, you can release it or destroy it.

On the day we bought it, Hubby came home a little after dark.  As he came into the house, he heard a lot of noise coming from the chickens, as it was dark, this was unusual.  We got a torch and went looking for the source of the racket.

The chookhouse was empty.  Not a single hen in sight.  We wandered all around the places that they sometimes spent time.  We found a few sites where there were a lot of feathers in a circle - kind of suggesting a point of impact, but no chickens were visible alive or dead.

I asked Hubby where he thought the noise had come from.  He wasn't sure but thought it had possibly come from the paddock beside the house.  We stopped and looked and listened.  I thought I could hear a wet chewing or eating sound, but I wasn't sure whether I'd heard it or it was the power of suggestion.  We had a look in that paddock and found a few hens (alive) nesting in long grass, then as I shone the torch around, eyes reflected back at me.  I didn't think they were from either of the cats we had at the time.  We got closer and saw it was a ferret.  This ferret was completely unconcerned about us, it was dragging a hen across the paddock.  Hubby went to get a weapon (a rake as it turned out) while I kept an eye on it.  By the time he came back, this ferret had almost dragged it's prey over my feet.

He hit it several times with the side of the rake.  It squeaked, bounced and kept running.  It ran into the wood shed.  We heard it chirrup and was answered by other chirrups.  We had a female with babies then.

About ten minutes later it was back, trying to drag this hen further across the paddock.  We went and got the trap, discussed and argued about how and where to set it.  In the end, we put the dead chicken in a cardboard box, cut a hole out the side for the trap to sit in it and weighted the box down.

Entrance to trap with pin dropped to keep the ramp tilted.

Other end of trap - with an occupant.

Master (then) 14 stood on guard near the trap for about an hour and a half.  He hit the ferret with the rake several times, it just kept bouncing, squeaking and running away.  It became wary of him, so he came inside after a while.

In the morning, we found a ferret in the trap.  We looked at each other and said "Now what?"  We decided we'd drown it, but weren't sure if a drowning ferret would taint the water in the water trough, so Hubby went off to get a fish crate and start filling it with water.  While he did that, Master 14 picked up the trap to have a look at the ferret and accidentally let it out.  Fortunately, he was quick enough to put the trap down on the ferret's tail and hold it there.  Um, crap.  What now?

Hubby got the log splitter and smacked the ferret on the head with the blunt end.  It took three decent blows before it stopped getting back up again.  Those buggers are near to indestructible.

This ferret had gone into a frenzy and killed at least six other hens that night before getting caught.

In the five years since then, we had seen maybe one ferret.

Then a couple of months ago, I noticed Mrs Wolowitz, my old bantam hen was missing.  There was one of those feather impact rings in her feathers in the hen house, but no sign of her.  She'd been sitting on eggs, so for her to suddenly vanish wasn't good.  Then over the next few days, I found at least one hen a day with it's throat torn out and mostly eaten.

I got a new rooster.  I'd heard crowing in one of the sheds at work.  It took some time, but we found a sneaky rooster that had managed to stay hidden with the girls for at least six months.  I named him Remington partly after Remington Steele (sneaky spy type staying undercover - yes I know Remington Steele was a Private Investigator and not a spy) and partly because he was a shaver (see what I did there?).  He fell to the ferret after about a week.  When I found him, he was little more than skin and bones.  I knew then that we had more than one - too much of him had been eaten for one ferret and there was at least one bird a day going.

I blocked up the gaps under the new chook house with bricks, fence posts and rocks leaving only a big enough space for the ferret trap.

There was a large female ferret in the trap the next day.  A large male the day after, followed by two half sized ferrets over the next two days.  I kept putting the trap back in the same spot.  About a week later, there was another one.

About a month after this patch of ferrets, I lost three hens from the tunnelhouse in one night.  Miss 11 and I were rounding up the remaining hens and taking them to the other chook run, when Miss 11 started squeaking "OMG MUM, look look it's a ferret!!" She pointed to the end of the tunnelhouse and there was a ferret, halfway through a hole in the netting, eating the organs out of one of the hens that had been killed the night before.  I chased it off but it was back again quite quickly.  When I took the next load of hens to the chook run, I brought the trap back with me and placed it so the entrance lined up with the hole in the netting.  It didn't work, the ferret was able to nudge the trap out of the way and keep eating the hen - and it did so quite casually in front of us.

I chased it off again, I could see it running towards the old pig pen (currently unoccupied).  It chirruped and was answered by other chirrups.  Great, another family affair.  I tried jamming the trap in tight so it couldn't be easily moved and carried on rounding up and taking the remaining (very spooked) hens to their new accommodation.

Before I left for the night, I noticed that the liver was still there in the chicken that had been partially eaten, so I dropped the liver into the trap and made sure the trap was firmly wedged in place.

The next morning I found the biggest ferret I've ever seen in the trap (see photo below - that's my foot not a childs).  She was huge and heavy.  I decided to put the trap back into the chook run.  I figured it was better to be protecting the living hens rather than the dead ones.

This ferret was extremely heavy in the trap.

I borrowed a cage trap from work and cut the legs off one of the dead chooks and set that trap in the tunnelhouse.  I didn't set it right and so both legs were gone without tripping the trap but there was another ferret caught in the other trap.

I've lost several turkeys to ferrets during this time as well.  I think these ferrets have to be very brave, very quick or very stupid to take on adult male turkeys - they scare the crap out of me, they're big and vicious, but I can't think of anything else that would rip the throat out of a turkey.

I've trapped and drowned 9 ferrets over the last couple of months.  This week I've lost more hens and a turkey but haven't caught any new ferrets.  I've blocked up the new gaps under the chook houses where the birds were half dragged under, there hasn't been any more deaths since I did that, but I haven't caught any more ferrets.

I have no idea why we suddenly have unprecedented numbers of ferrets, but I'm confident I've made a good dent in the local population.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Harvest Time

It seems that everything has come ready all at once.

I have plenty of apples and I've been given more by friends who have an overabundance this year.  It has been a great season for apples.

I've been given lots of black boy peaches.

I got fed up with the birds eating my not quite ripe grapes and did a big pick over the weekend.

I'm picking a kg of field mushrooms every couple of days.

The blackberries are still going strong, a month after they've usually finished.

The elderberries have just finished.

This has led to several very busy weeks, bottling, brewing, drying and baking.  Luckily, I gave up my job recently and now have time to do this.

The apples have become several Apple and Walnut Crumbles in the freezer and lots of dried apple slices.  The peels and cores have become Apple Jelly.

The black boy peaches became a fruit pie and a couple of bags of quartered peaches in the freezer.

The grapes are currently sitting in two brew barrel fermenters as 50 litres of Black Grape Wine.

The freezer is again well stocked with sliced and sauteed Field Mushrooms.

The elderberries are currently 14 litres of Elderberry Wine fermenting madly away.

Apple Jelly

I used to make great fruit jellies.  They had the right texture, they spread well and tasted wonderful.

Somewhere over the last few years, I lost that.  My jellies were either still runny, but in a hard toffee like way or they crystallised into a solid, crunchy mass.  I couldn't figure out where I'd lost my jelly making mojo.

I made some a couple of weeks ago.  It was as I was boiling the jelly with sugar that I realised where I'd been going wrong.  I wasn't boiling it hard enough.  After a few overflows where I'd ended up having to scrub burnt sugar from under the elements, I'd become afraid of having my jelly boil over.  At the same time, I realised that the pot I was currently using was too small and it was going to boil over.  I spent about 20 mins carefully snatching the pot up off the element as it was about to boil over, letting it settle back down and then doing it all again.  This got to be every 30 seconds I was having to lift it, but I did finally manage a perfect jelly again.  And I did have to scrub burnt sugar from under the element.

The thing that has left me a bit confused is I knew this.  I know the secret to a good jelly is to boil it hard and fast.  For some reason, I'd forgotten this and I still don't understand how or why.

Anyway, with the last lot of apples, I'm making some more.

Apple Jelly

Apple peels and cores.

Put the peels and cores into a pot and cover with water.  Bring to the boil and simmer until it's all very soft.  Strain through a jelly bag overnight, do not squeeze.

Measure liquid and return to a large heavy based pan.  Bring to the boil and add sugar at a rate of 1 cup of sugar to each cup of strained juice.  Stir until dissolved and boil hard for at least 10 mins.  Test as for jam.  Pour into hot sterilised jars and put lids on.

With my last batch, I found that the pot for boiling the jelly needs to be at least four times the volume of the juice and sugar, because it will boil up that high.

Jelly just starting to boil

Jelly about to boil over
Finished jellies

Apple and Walnut Crumble

A few years ago I was given a great gluten-free cookbook.  Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise G. Roberts.  I'd flicked through it a few times, but hadn't really used any of the recipes.  This was mostly because I hadn't been able to source the Brown Rice Flour that is a staple of most of the recipes.

I recently found brown rice flour and made up the flour mix.  I tried a few recipes from the book, particularly the Rustic Apple Tart.  It was delicious.  There was a spice mix that went into the apples that made them better than just diced apples.

It didn't use a lot of apples though and I had lots of apples to get through this time.  Several bags of apples that had been given to me by friends who'd had bumper crops this year and had already filled their own pantries and freezers.

I have ice-cream containers filled with stewed apples that we're just not using.  I made too much apple sauce to go with the pork we had, so there's that in the freezer already.

I decided to make apple crumbles.  I could bump up the volume of apples to suit the size of the dish.  I also looked at the amount of walnuts I've been given and chose to add them into my apples as well.  Last week I watched a Rick Stein show that included a woman somewhere in France making her apple pies, she added Armagnac to her apples which made us sit up and think that would be delicious.

I didn't have any Armagnac, I've run out of Cognac and Brandy (hubby's 50th birthday party was just over a week ago).  I tried to think what else would work with apples and remembered an apple and bourbon punch I had at a wedding.

I made two crumbles.  We tried the first one last night and declared it successful.  The other is in the freezer.

I didn't really bother too much with measurements, below are my best guesses.

Apple and Walnut Crumble

10 cups diced apples
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp Cinnamon
1 tbsp Nutmeg
1/2 cup Butter
1/2 cup Bourbon
5 tbsp lemon juice

Mix all together and place in dish.

Crumble topping:

2 cups hazelnut meal
1 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup potato starch
1/6 cup tapioca flour
1 cup raw sugar
1 tsp xanthan gum
2/3 cup butter, cold and diced

Mix dry ingredients and rub in butter.  Spread on top of apple mix and pat down.

Bake for 45 mins at 180 degrees Celsius.

On left with crumble topping, the one on the right is waiting for it's topping.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Black Grape Wine

When we still lived in Christchurch, we had a rather prolific grapevine.  We had no idea what variety it was, there were no tags and it was there when we bought the place.

Hubby had an old recipe book that had a chapter on beverages - most were wines and liquers.  Hubby had previously tried the grape wine recipe but when he opened a bottle of it a year or so later, it smelled like petrol and the colour was uneven (dark pink/purple at the bottom and clear at the top) so he'd thrown the wine out.  He'd written some of his calculations in the book and gotten them terribly wrong somehow.

I tried making wine from the recipe, exactly to the recipe.

Grape Wine (from the NZ Truth Cookery Book circa 1960s)

3 lb. black grapes, 4 quarts cold water, 3 lb. Sugar.

Put grapes in bowl and crush.  Cover with water, let stand 5 days, stirring several times daily, then strain.  Add sugar and stir until dissolved, set in a warm place to ferment.  Leave 10 days, then strain and bottle.

I bottled this wine and then had to clean up all the bottles that blew their corks.  So I put what remained back into the brew barrel and waited until the air lock stopped bubbling and then bottled it again.  It was a lovely pink colour, somewhat sparkling and very sweet.

The next year I made it again, but I did it in two batches.  One was straight grapes, and the other was blended with redcurrants.  The idea was that the redcurrant mix wouldn't be as sweet.

As it turned out, the grape wine was very different from the previous year's.  It wasn't as sweet, it was a darker colour and tasted a lot like port.  Very drinkable and rather alcoholic.  The grape and redcurrant mix took a few years before it tasted like anything worth drinking, but now it's very nice.

My grapevines this year had finally grown up over the archway and the grapes were hanging down and easily pickable.  This is from just two grapevines.

What is left of the grapes I didn't pick.

This time, I used not just my own grapes but some frozen ones I'd been given.  Some friends had been told that freezing your grapes first makes better juice more easily extracted.  All up I mashed 11 1/2 kg of grapes.  Then I did the maths for how much water I'd need.  48 litres of water.  Crap.  I didn't have anything big enough to hold it all.  So I asked the Hive Mind that is facebook how soaking the mashed grapes in less water would be likely to affect my wine.

Most of my homebrew winemaking friends said that they never add water.  Many of them never add sugar either.  Their wines are purely grape juice.  Hmmm.  I then consulted google, the ultimate guru on all things.  I found articles explaining where water is added after fermentation to keep the alcohol content to a level able to be sold legally in some countries.  I found an article that talked about how long to leave the skins in the water to improve the colour of a red wine.  Then I found an article explaining how water keeps the fermentation process going.  I also found an extremely technical article that included calculations to determine how much tartaric acid to add to your water based on degrees Brix and a whole bunch of measurements I'd never heard of.

I dithered and second guessed everything for a few hours.  Then I decided to follow the recipe as well as I could.  My recipe has been working for me for years.  I always make a great wine that tastes good and has a high (although unmeasured because I've never quite understood or bothered to find out how to do that) alcohol content.  I used a large plastic storage crate and added in what water would fit and left it to do it's thing for a week.

Meanwhile, I went and bought another brew barrel fermenter.  When it was time to strain and add sugar, I strained it into one of my brew barrels.  When it started to get a bit full, I split the total volume in half into a second barrel.  I put all the skins and pulp that I'd strained out back into the storage crate and added water.  I let it sit for a while and then strained it again to top up my wine to the total volume of water I was short.  I added the sugar to both barrels, put the lids on and fitted the airlock bubblers.  48(ish) litres of wine fermenting away madly.  And they are fermenting madly.  Two weeks later and the bubblers and going flat out.

Two brew barrel fermenters fermenting madly.