Monday, March 28, 2011

Sweet potato what?

I had a present from the big smoke recently. Amita, at the Chinese shop, found these gluten free noodles made from sweet potatoes. They were bright green in the packet and had a vaguely unpleasant earthy smell to them. The way the delightful green faded away reminded me of the way that purple beans turn disappointingly green during cooking and made me suspect it was a natural colour. After I boiled them as I would pasta, the texture was very much like cellophane noodles although not as bland and looking like a fat spaghetti.

 We ate them in a black bean and tofu vegetable stir fry we both enjoyed.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Autumn invasion

We are in the second week of autumn, the mornings have an edge of change and days are appreciatively shorter. No rain though and the garden is looking very sad. Most of the summer veg are over and the beds lie empty under their straw blankets. Comparatively lush compared to the surrounding bush, we have become a magnet for creatures looking for food and water.
A plague of rats and mice, ants and fleas has been followed by grasshoppers of all shapes and sizes and twenty eight spot ladybirds (henosepilachna spp.) One eating the snow peas (optimistically planted under shade), the other shredding the leaves of the eggplants.
A deadly night shade had been acting as my trap plant for the ladybirds. It had got to the stage where it was almost lace.  When I went to pull it out I discovered a bug I had never seen before. Very sinister, looking like a cross between a giant mealy bug and a bright yellow slater. I waded through page after page of nightmares trying to identify it. Creatures that could eat, saw, cut nibble and suck the very life from your garden and only be controlled by toxic chemicals.
After some careful reading, I came across the answer...these little devils were the larval stage of the pesky 28 spot lady birds. Clustered on the base of the stem, they were biding their time to begin to head leaf ward as ladybirds. Another little mystery solved and another little snack for the chickens.

See more about natural pest control here.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Talking to bread

After two weeks, I was heartily sick of eating fluffy gluten free bread. Since my first attempts at sour dough I have been an addict at breakfast time especially. As I was unable to find a recipe for gluten free sour dough anywhere so my first attempt was unaided. I was really pleased with the results so I will share them with you.
You will need to make/borrow/beg a sour dough starter. I used my rye starter which I had removed from the fridge and 'fed' the day before starting.
Bread making is an art rather than a science, so don't worry too much about times or weights and measures. The process of sourdough cannot be hurried. It will however, proceed quite happily without much intervention on your part. It is easiest to start 24 hours before you want to bake. I begin the 'sponge' after dinner, knead the bread after breakfast then bake while cooking dinner the next day.
Don't be put off by the length of this recipe, I have tried to explain the processes for bread beginners. If you have made bread before, you can skip a lot of it.

You will need:
2 C room temperature water
1 C of 'refreshed' sour dough starter 
75g ground linseed
½ C sunflower seed
1 ½ tsp salt

0 hour: Making the sponge (nothing to do with cake)
Mix the wet ingredients in a bowl.
Add 3C of flour and all other ingredients except the salt in a large mixing bowl.
Mix to a thick batter.
Place in a plastic bag and cover with a cloth. Do not seal the bag, you need to let the dough breathe but you don't want a crust forming. Sit in a draught free place.
8-12 hours: Kneading and shaping.
The batter will have risen slightly in the centre and have a sponge like appearance when the surface is disturbed. This means that the natural yeasts and bacteria in the sourdough have been activated and are producing bubbles of carbon dioxide.
Oil a loaf tin.
Stir the salt into the sponge. This is important to stop the work of the bacteria that inhibit the natural yeasts that aerate the dough.
Sprinkle some of the remaining 2 C of flour onto your bench and scrape the sponge onto it.
Flour your hands and begin to work the extra flour into the dough by pulling a little dough from the edge that sits at 12 on the clock with your fingers and pushing it back into the centre firmly with the heel of your hand.
Swivel the dough ¼ turn and repeat, adding extra flour to the bench as you need to until it it possible to form it into a loaf shape. Continue until the flour is used up. You can add a little more if you need to as all flours vary in moisture content.

The dough will remain heavy and sticky but should be dry enough that your hand doesn't stick to it. The texture is not crucial, gluten free dough's are always 'wetter' than those made with high gluten flour
At this stage, bread dough's are tested by pushing a finger into the dough to form an indent. If it springs back, the gluten has been activated and you can stop kneading. I tried this with the gluten free loaf and after a lot of kneading it did spring back slightly.

Shape into a rough loaf, place in the oiled tin and press dough down to an even thickness.
Return the tin to your plastic bag and cover again. Leave to rise (or proof.)
12-24  hours: Baking
Preheat you oven to 200˚.
Your loaf should have now doubled in size. If it hasn't, leave it a little longer.
Bake for 35 - 40 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it.
Cool on a rack, covered by a cloth.
Sourdough keeps really well without refrigeration. It is better toasted if you keep it in the refrigerator or freezer. If you want to eat it fresh, keep it in a cool place.

If you have made bread before you will find this dough is very different from bread with gluten. The results were very pleasing - even bubbles, a firm texture, not soggy and slicing well with a lovely sour dough aroma and it is still looking good after 6 days! Don't be discouraged if your first result is not perfect. Remember that the dough is a living being. It needs food, water, warmth, moisture and care, to rest undisturbed and responds to being talked to.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

A good boy

We said goodbye to Toto, our gentle little poodle, this week. An ancient little chap he was, possibly as old as twenty.

Christmas 2009
He was already thirteen and had been waiting a while for a new home when a kindly courier paid two weeks extra board for him at the vets.  I caught sight of his cheeky little face in a basket when I popped to buy some cream and took him home for ‘the weekend.’ 

A faithful and feisty little dog, he guarded us from ghosts and visitors, terrorised the dog clipping man and won hearts all over town. Greg, the courier called in to see him often.
In these last few weeks his blindness and deafness had left him vulnerable to accidents and injury. His brave spirit began to falter and he began to spend more time in his bed.
After much soul searching, we made the decision to let him end his life with grace and dignity in the arms of someone who loved him. 
That is a wonderful gift that we can give our animals. To the end of their lives they continue to trust in our care and love us unconditionally. Letting them go can be the ultimate expression of our love for them.

We miss him dreadfully; I hope his dreams are of juicy bones and having the teeth with which to chew them.
Travel well little man.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Gluten free quest

I love bread... homemade dark rye sourdough with grains and seeds is my weakness...and something I can no longer eat.....
Most commercially available gluten free breads are raised with baking powder and have a very cake like texture. If they include wholemeal flour or grains, they have to be boosted with other raising agents to give extra rising power in heavier dough.
I had picked up a packet of what I thought was Laucke gluten free flour in anticipation of experimenting and it turned out to be a bread mix that only took an hour to make. As I had to have the oven on to bake for the markets and the kitchen was already hot, it made sense to fill the oven. This mix contains bicarbonate of soda (E500), glucono delta lactone (E575), which is either synthetic, or produced by bacteria from sugar. Guar gum (E412) and Xanthan gum (E415) are both natural thickeners and E464 – hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, is a semi synthetic thickening agent derived from wood and may cause digestive problems in sensitive people.
The mix was easy to prepare, I mixed 500gm and water in Thermomix on soft for 30 seconds, then #3 for two minutes. Interestingly, the batter is then left to rise for 20 minutes. It almost doubles in size, I can’t quite figure out why – there must be some reaction between the two rising agents. The 500g bag, which is half the amount in the box, made a large loaf in my 2 litre capacity tin. It browned a little unevenly and sank a little after cooking but this was probably because I had the oven set 5 degrees higher than recommended and didn’t notice so it cooked too fast. The only problem I had was removing it from the tin. I had oiled it really well, as recommended but it stuck in places. I will always line the tins for these batter type mixes in future.
The results were okay, a nice soft loaf that sliced well after cooling. The results were still a bit ‘white’ for my taste, but preferable to the frozen and defrosted GF bread available for sale here and as it costs half as much, is worth considering. The same mix can be used for rolls, pizzas, tortillas, cakes and pancakes, all the recipes are on the packet.
I froze half the loaf, defrosted, it was 'fresh' enough for sandwiches and toasted very nicely.
No luck so far in the hunt for gluten free sourdough recipes but have come across a huge list of GF grains I can play with and some recipes for making your own GF flour blends.

PS. Balingup Bronze Cafe is holding gluten free cooking classes here soon.