Sunday, 26 August 2012

New Cat Enclosure

A few weeks ago I purchased cat netting and a zip kit from here (with quick delivery and great price) and installed in the little area outside my bathroom and toilet window using just cable ties and a staple gun.

It was remarkably easy to install, the hardest part was sewing the zip into the netting, trying to push the thick needle through the zipper material and then looping through the netting, but once I got the hang of it I was fine.

My fabulous brother created this entry/exit point for the cats using the existing toilet window screen, which I picked up today and it looks fantastic. The cats now need to learn how to use the door. They are very unsure, but it won't be long and they will be racing in and out.

The purpose of creating this cat enclosure was to be able to keep the litter trays and all the associated smells outside, but the bonus is that the cats love being outside in the fresh air watching the birds fly by.

Making Sourdough Bread

First you need to obtain a sourdough starter; there are three ways you can get your hands on one of these. You can create your own starter following the instructions here, which is how I got mine, get a sourdough starter from friends or family or buy from the many online stores that sell sourdough starter. If you do want some let me know and I'll see if I can post it to you if you provide postage.

Once you have your sourdough starter you need to feed it so that you have enough starter to make your loaf of bread.

The simplest way I have found is to measure all of the starter sourdough, say it weighs 200g, you then add 200g of flour (wholemeal I use) and 200g water and stir it well, adding in lots of air, then put into a glass jar or plastic container (make sure the lid doesn't screw on as the starter ferments and builds up gases and these need to be able to escape, I use a moccona jar and the lid just pops up as needed) and leave on the bench until you see lots of bubbles in it like the picture below. It is then ready to cook with.

I have only made 5 loaves of sourdough bread so I am still learning, but the quantities I am using to make my bread are below as suggested by Dave from Aussies Living Simply.

To make 2 loaves of bread
400g starter
800g bakers flour
650g water
20g salt

Mix into a dough and then knead until smooth and elastic, the first few times it took me a long time, but the last time I set the timer for 20 mins and found this was plenty of time to knead.

Divide the dough in half, shape and put in loaf tins, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise between 4-12 hours depending on the temperature. I have been leaving mine to rise overnight, then baking in the morning.

 Ready to go in the oven

Heat oven as high as it will go, slash tops of loaves and put into oven for 5 mins.

Then bring the temperature down to 220 degrees and bake for another 20-25mins.

Cool and eat.

I then slice and freeze my loaves in freezer bags. I find it easy to get out a couple of slices as required.

When you aren't using your sourdough starter you can leave it in the fridge to hibernate until you are ready to use it again. I have also heard that you can freeze your starter as a safety in case anything goes wrong with your starter, but I haven't tried this yet.

This website here has so much information on making sourdough bread, that all your questions will be answered. There are also recipes for using excess sourdough starter to make pancakes and choc chip cookies, which I have made and can confirm are delicious!

Here are a couple of links to the benefits of eating Sourdough Bread
5 Reasons to make Sourdough your only bread
The Health Benefits of Sourdough bread

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Electric Tefal Minut Pressure Cooker Review

Lets just start by saying I am in love with my new pressure cooker. I picked it up Friday night after work and since then I have used it seven times and it is only Sunday night.

I had never seen a pressure cooker in use and I had only heard horror stories of exploding pressure cookers, so I have been kind of scared of them. Fortunately people kept mentioning how great they are for cooking legumes and beans, so I posted on a forum asking for feedback from people with first hand experience, and I received a positive response from pressure cooker owners. I was sold!

I decided to buy an electric pressure cooker because I felt safer and decided on the Tefal for several reasons:
  • It has a browning, saute and simmer function, so I am able to brown my onion and garlic in butter or oil before throwing everything else in and getting it up to pressure.
  • It is almost fully automatic. I throw everything into the pan, select either low or high pressure, select how long I want it to be at pressure, then hit start and I can walk away (I don't recommend leaving appliances going when you aren't around to supervise), read a book, wash dishes etc, whilst the pressure cooker gets to pressure, cooks at pressure and once the time is over it beeps and you can either let it release the pressure naturally or open the vent and release the steam quickly.
  • It is also incredibly easy to clean, the lid is completely washable (pulls apart easily) and the pot is removable and washes easily.
I don't know what stovetop models are like or other brands of electric pressure cookers as this is my first experience with pressure cookers, so can only share my experiences.

I am still learning what the pressure cooker can do, but so far it hasn't disappointed with anything I have cooked in it and I have had no idea how to use it. I have just been googling for rough estimates of times and whether to use high or low pressure and whether to release the steam or wait for it to release naturally.

I have cooked a potato and chick pea curry, steel cut oats, pumpkin soup, potatoes to make mashed potato, brown rice (I have never had such creamy tasty brown rice) and pumpkin and chick pea curry, but forgot to include the curry, so ended up being a coconut flavour from the coconut milk and again tasted fantastic! I wish I could share how wonderfully everything really does taste!

I now have 20 lunches in the freezer to take to work, so much easier than last time I cooked my meals for the freezer. I am very soon going to have to get a chest freezer just to store everything I am planning to cook. I have dry chickpeas soaking, ready to cook tomorrow night and freeze.

I have also found a recipe to make bread in the pressure cooker and instructions on boiling fresh eggs in it, apparently it makes fresh eggs easier to peel. I have so many recipes I want to try...

I have heard that things taste better because it is cooked under pressure you aren't losing any of the flavour, I'm not sure, but I do know everything does taste good, really good!

I thought I would share a couple of recipes

Brown Rice - recipe from here, which I modified slightly
4 cups of water
2 cups of brown rice
3 teaspoons of powdered vegetable stock
3 tablespoons of butter

Throw everything into the pressure cooker, set the pressure cooker to high and cook for 15 mins at pressure. Allow pressure cooker to release the pressure naturally.

This will be the best brown rice you have ever tasted!

Pumpkin and Chickpea Curry
1 onion diced
3-4 cloves of garlic
Pumpkin cut into bite size pieces
2 cans of chick peas drained
1 can of coconut cream
2 cups of water

1 - Melt butter in the pressure cooker using the browning option, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft
2 - Throw in the rest of the ingredients
3 - Select high pressure and cook at high pressure for 3-4 mins (I cooked for 4 mins and it probably cooked it too much)
4 - Once it beeps, release the steam using the valve
Dinner served in about 30 mins. The longest part is preparing the vegetables. The pressure cooker takes about 8-10 mins to get to pressure (quicker if it is already warm), then 3-4 mins at pressure. Really very quick!

I will admit that I always jump when I release the steam valve, but I imagine I will stop jumping once I get used to the noise it makes as it rushes out!

I have never had this much fun in the kitchen. Any questions please feel free to ask in the comments field.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Water Kefir

I am very grateful to have been given water kefir grains from a friend at the last Aussies Living Simply get together. At the time I had no idea what they were, but followed her instructions and I ended up with a drink tasting like non-alcoholic wine with slight bubbles. Delicious!

So what is Water Kefir?

I copied this description from the website here. Water kefir grains are a great fermentation tool that help you make fruity, probiotic drinks, cultured infusions, and probiotic fruit compotes. They are versatile, inexpensive, and easy to use. They are a great introduction to home fermentation.

You need to get hold of about 3 tablespoons of water kefir grains either from a friend or you can buy online. Then you can follow the recipe below:

3 TB water kefir grains (at least, more doesn't matter as they will multiply)
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups of non-chlorinated water (chlorine kills the grains)
1 slice of lemon
1 piece of dried fruit, sulphur free (dates, prune, fig etc)
1.5 cups of Grape juice

Put the kefir grains, sugar, water, lemon and dried fruit in a glass jar, then cover with a cloth and secure with a rubber band to keep bugs out, but to allow air to get in. I am using dishcloths, then leave on the bench out of the sun to ferment for 24 hrs.

Strain water into another glass jar, leaving grains, lemon and dried fruit behind. Into the strained water add the 1.5 cups of grape juice, then put a lid on and allow to ferment on the bench for 48 hrs or more to make it carbonated. The longer it ferments the less sweet it gets and the more alcoholic it can get. You may need to open the bottle to allow some of the air out, so the bottle doesn't pop.

After it has fermented you can store in the fridge ready to drink as you like.

In the other glass jar with the strained grains, dried fruit and lemon, you can add 4 cups of water, sugar, replace lemon slice with a new piece of lemon and you can continue using the dried fruit for about a week, place cloth and rubber band and allow to ferment for 24 hrs, on your way to making your second batch of kefir.

I have only made 3 batches so far and I haven't started experimenting, but you can make many different flavours and you can vary the fermenting times depending on the air temperature and how sweet you like your kefir. Here is a blog that I find helpful I am looking forward to experimenting with different combinations of juices and fresh fruit in the near future.

Water kefir is meant to be great for your body due to the probiotics. I was concerned about the sugar, but from what I have read it seems that the grains eat the sugar, so you are eating minimal sugar after all of the fermentation. It is a very refreshing drink and I would definitely recommend.

1st stage (old coffee jar, that was previously used for brown lentils)

 2nd stage after the grape juice has been added
Edited: Since experimenting further I am finding I like to leave the second fermentation on the bench for 48 hrs (not 24 hrs as previously stated) before putting in the fridge, then I find it tastes better after a week or two in the fridge, but can be drank at any stage, It is definitely a personal preference and you will need to experiment and find what tastes best for you.