Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Milk: The udder story!

A couple of recent articles in the press got me thinking about MILK - a basic food commodity that we not only drink fresh, but make all sorts of everyday products like cheese, butter, yoghurt and cream - something we have been doing for thousands of years.  But, MILK apparently isn't MILK these days.

The first was a new survey which showed worrying levels of basic knowledge about agriculture, with students believing yogurt grew on trees and cotton socks come from animals.

The survey, commissioned by the Primary Industries Education Foundation (PIEF) and undertaken by the Australian Council of Educational Research with the support of Woolworths, reveals that 75 per cent of students in year six thought cotton socks were an animal product, while 27 per cent said they thought yogurt was a plant product.

The second was an article about how FRESH MILK is adulterated and is not exactly what you think - well, what I thought.
Fresh Jersey milk from our local dairy

FOR STARTERS: These days, look on the supermarket shelves – home delivery of milk having long since gone the way of many luxuries, including milk in glass bottles – and the range on offer is utterly bamboozling. There's skim milk, high-calcium milk, A2 milk, vitamin-enriched milk, soy milk, lactose-free milk, organic milk and much, much more.

FOR SECONDS: Nearly all milk sold today is actually a reconstituted product, often containing other dairy by-products.  This was news to me, but apparently has been going on for about two decades.  Milk is taken apart and put back together again so that it tastes exactly the same the whole year round in spite of normal seasonal variations - we, the consumer, apparently expect this! (I don't remember being asked about this in a telephone survey!).

FOR THIRDS: Ever wondered why people are becoming increasingly lactose intolerant? "Reconstituted" milk is perfectly legal, but most of this standardised milk contains a by-product from the dairy production process called permeate, which occurs when the milk proteins and fat are removed. Permeate has been used in Australian milk for about two decades.
Permeate can taint the taste of the milk and increase its lactose (milk sugar) quotient. It's high in lactose and if you are even mildly lactose intolerant, it might put you over the edge - so say the expert nutritionists.

According to Braeden Lord, CEO of Aussie Farmers Direct, "an unsustainable retail price forces processors to take short cuts to produce milk at a sustainable pricing level"

Up to 12 percent of your carton could be permeate. The MORE permeate mixed in, the less farm milk needed, the cheaper each bottle is to produce.

"Not only are the poor farmers getting the injustice of this, but consumers are unaware of the adulteration of the milk" says Lord.

From everything I have read the experts recommend the natural approach. "Ideally, choose milks that are as close to their natural state as possible."

I think it's worthwhile quoting Rene Redzeppi chef of Noma, Copenhagen Denmark - named No. 1 restaurant in the world for the third year in a row who works from a menu sourced from purely local ingredients.
"If the world is going to come to its senses, we are going to have to develop our own awareness and consciousness about terroir*.  The wheat we grow for the bread we bake, the beer that we brew and the animals that we breed"

I find these facts startling and thoroughly depressing - do you?  There was only one thing to do after this and that was to take the grandchildren on one of our regular outings to the local dairy with real COWS and real MILK where we can buy gorgeous, unadulterated, full-cream Jersey milk straight from the cow in our own recycled bottles. 

Where once a trip to the dairy was commonplace, it is now very unusual - I know that it certainly stopped in the UK when they went into the European Union in the 70's and food multinationals and 'government regulating bodies' have put paid to this practice in other parts of the world. 

Anyway, home with our delicious milk to make some yoghurt, cream cheese and a creme caramel - the farmer sells eggs as well - and they don't grow on trees!
*NOTE: Definition of terroir - "the complete natural environment in which a particular food (usually wine) is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate".

Yoghurt: Making your own is easy!

I love yoghurt and use it a lot in cooking, or simply eat it straight from the fridge with a big bowl of fresh or stewed fruit.  Yoghurt is a staple food in many parts of the world and it's not hard to understand why-it is just so versatile.  My friend Dennis, of Lebanese extraction, makes yoghurt every week with a culture (laban) that he insists his mother brought from Lebanon decades ago.  I'm not sure if it's true, but it makes a good story.

Freshly made yoghurt with full-cream Jersey milk

I'm not a big fresh milk fan, in fact I never drink it straight as it just doesn't agree with me, but with yoghurt  I'm fine.  This is because the bacteria that sets the milk into yoghurt curds (or 'clabbers' it!) converts most of the lactose present in whole milk into lactic acid.  That bacteria - Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Streptococcus thermophilus are also beneficial in maintaining good gut health and are often recommended as a supplement to take after a course of antibiotics (which kills all the bacteria, good and bad).

Yoghurt is easy to make at home.  It just needs to be made with fresh milk and those with 'full cream' will make a thicker yoghurt - more in the Greek style.  It is best made in small quantities as it will 'set' better.  I always make it when we have made a trip to the dairy.

1 litre full cream fresh milk
1tbs yoghurt 'starter' - any good cultured plain yoghurt
NOTE: Don't be tempted to increase the amount of 'starter' as it will make the yoghurt excessively sour
Container with a lid.  I use a glass Pyrex bowl that has a lid.

Heat the milk in a saucepan until it is begins to boil and the froth rises.
Lower the heat and let it simmer for about two minutes - you have to watch it like a hawk!
Turn off the heat and allow it to cool to the point where you can barely dip your finger in and hold it there for the count of ten (42oC/110oF).  It's much easier to invest in a thermometer - they are readily available in cookware shops - it has a probe that goes into the liquid and clips on the side of the saucepan.
NOTE:  If the milk is much cooler or hotter than this the yoghurt is likely to fail.

Beat the milk and activator (your spoonful of yoghurt), a little at a time until it is thoroughly mixed.  Pour into a glass or ceramic container that has a lid.
Wrap the container in a towel/small blanket and leave in a warm, draught free place for eight hours/overnight.
It should be like thick custard.  Don't leave longer or it will go sour.
Thick and creamy home-made yoghurt
NOTE:  My Indian friend Nalini showed me how to make yoghurt by this method about 40 years ago.  Her favoured place to leave it to set was in a cupboard on top of her water heaterI put it in an insulated bag (the kind you take on a picnic to keep things cool) and put a tea cosy over it.
NOTE:  Save a spoonful from each batch to make the next one.  The yoghurt, in the picture above, has been 'going' from one I started about a year ago - making a new batch every week with a spoonful from the last one.  This is very easy to do - and tastes delicious.

For an easy way to make ricotta with fresh milk - go to this link.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Recipe: Chicken Curry - Sri Lankan style

Sri Lankan Chicken Curry
This recipe is a real winner.  I first came across Sri Lankan curries in a cookbook I borrowed from a friend (which ended up on my shelf, with his blessing (thank you Dennis!), for about fifteen years) - Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian Cookbook - it's a wonderful book that took me on a gastronomic journey all around Asia and many favourites remain in the family  repertoire. 

The only Asian food I had before I came to Australia was 'English style' Chinese (in fact, the first restaurant I ever went to was the Chinese at New Cross Gate in about 1960) - chicken chop suey, fried rice and sweet and sour pork, and my Dad's curry - which was made with the Sunday leftover roast, gravy powder, apples, sultanas and was flavoured with Keens Curry Powder (just the thought of it makes me shudder - I could never eat more than a mouthful).

The secret to making a good curry - and any Asian food, for that matter - is to use the freshest ingredients you can.  It's that flavour bursting in the mouth thing - the 'pow' of chilli, the 'zing' of lemon grass, the 'tang' of lime, the 'smouldering' flavours of cinnamon and cloves - and that's without the exotic, steaming fragrances titillating the taste buds before even one spoonful has gone in.

(The photo shows the rhizome of fresh galangal - see galangal paste recipe)

Certainly, in my lifetime, the world has become a global cafe of gastronomic grazing and most of us are now familiar with the cuisines of Japan, Thailand, Indian, China and Vietnam and, if you have lived in Sydney, you can add Indonesian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Burmese, Cambodian, Korean, and more.

Turmeric in flower
We are lucky to live in the sub-tropics and be able to grow our own spice gardens with many of the plants used for Asian cooking doubling as beautiful ornamentals e.g. turmeric, curry leaf tree, galangal, coriander, kaffir lime, citrus, lemon grass. garlic chives, banana, chilli, papaya, pineapple etc.
A bunch of bananas growing before my eyes

So, if you really want to make a fabulous curry it's best to grind the spices as you go.  Sometime ago I invested in s spice grinder (just like a coffee grinder) that I keep just for spices - the difference in flavour is phenomenal.  Some spices I can't grow, like cumin and cinnamon, so I just buy them in small quantities and grind them as I need them.  The pungency of ground spices is quickly lost during storage - I too have had the tumbling plastic containers and jars of spices, stored in the pantry for goodness how long, that were so stale you could not discern by colour or smell what they were!
Drying turmeric in the sun

1.5kg chicken cut into 12 even pieces
NOTE:  For good flavour it is always to buy chicken with the bone in it and then cut it up.  The same goes for buying 'free range' (apart from it being 'against my religion' to buy an animal that has been reared in a cage)
2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
10 curry leaves (fresh or dried)
2 large onion, finely chopped (I do it in the food processor)
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder (adjust to your taste)
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground fennel seed
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vinegar
1 can chopped tomatoes, or three fresh ones
6 cardamom pods, bruised
1 stick cinnamon
1 stalk lemon grass, bruised
1 cup coconut cream

1.  Heat ghee/oil and fry fenugreek seeds and curry leaves until they start to 'pop'.
2.  Add onion, garlic and ginger and fry gently until onion are quite soft and transparent.
3.  Add turmeric, chilli, coriander, cumin, fennel, paprika, salt and vinegar and stir well.
4.  Add tomatoes, whole spices and lemon grass.
5.  Add chicken and stir over medium heat until chicken is thoroughly coated with spices.  Cook, covered, on a low heat for 40-50 minutes.
6.  Add coconut cream, taste and add more salt and squeeze of lemon juice if desired.
8.  Serve with rice and your favourite sambal.

NOTE:  To make this 'a complete meal' I often add some vegetables about 15 minutes before it's finished cooking - this one had potato, carrot and peas.

Galangal in flower

Monday, August 6, 2012

Orange Marmalade: easy recipe for everyone!

Citrus is in abundance at this time of year and I have just been harvesting my first crop of limes and lemons - more exciting than watching the Olympics?!  It also means that I have been the grateful recipient of buckets and bags of oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, tangelos and pomelos.

As we had just finished our final jar of last year's batch it was time to pull out this tried and true easy recipe.

1 kilo of ripe oranges. (You can use a mix of citrus)
A WORD ABOUT ORANGES:  Just picked from the tree is best and I prefer the thin skinned navels.  I have made lots of marmalade from store bought oranges, but you really do have to avoid the overripe ones and those with a 'waxed' skin.  Success with marmalade really depends on the pectin content of the fruit which decreases as the fruit gets older.
1 lime (optional-I just like the combination)
2 lemons, juice and pips (gives a nice tangy flavour and the pips add pectin)
White granulated sugar - about 1kg (see note)
Filtered water - enough to cover the fruit once it is cut up
1.  Slice the fruit thinly.  I use the thin slicing blade on my food processor otherwise it is a pretty time consuming and messy business - this way all the juice is saved (otherwise you end up with juice running off the bench-top!)  Quarter the fruit first, leaving the skin on, and cut off the thick ends of the fruit and any white pithy bits out of the middle (this makes it bitter.)  Add any pips that may be in the fruit.
2.  Put in a non-reactive, heavy based saucepan.
3.  Add the juice and pips of two lemons (you will remove all the pips at the end of cooking) 
4.  Cover sliced fruit with filtered water and leave to stand overnight (or eight hours) with lid on. 
5.  After the sliced fruit has soaked overnight, bring to boil and simmer for one hour - making sure it does not 'catch' on the bottom by giving an occasional stir.
6.  Thoroughly wash the jars and lids you are going to use (this is where a dishwasher is a godsend!) and dry-off in a warm oven for about one hour - make sure it is not too hot or the jars will crack.  This sterilizes the jars so the marmalade will keep and not go mouldy.  At this point PUT A SAUCER IN THE FREEZER - trust me!!

7.  Sugar - to work out how much is required you will need to measure how many cupfuls of this fruit and water mixture you have because YOU WILL NEED EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT OF SUGAR.
This batch was eight cupfuls of sliced fruit and water so I needed eight cupfuls of sugar.
NOTE:  With this method you can make any quantity of marmalade.  If you are making this in the winter time you will need to warm the sugar in the oven before you add it to the fruit.  Putting cold sugar in stops the cooking process.

8.  Almost there!  After simmering the fruit for an hour ADD THE SUGAR AND BOIL RAPIDLY until it begins to 'get a bit crinkly around the edges'.  This is where the saucer from the freezer comes in.  Test to see if the marmalade has reached 'setting point' by putting a spoonful of the mix on the saucer.  If a skin forms on top of the marmalade it is ready (push it gently with your finger)  If not, keep simmering rapidly for a few more minutes.  Don't forget to stir it!  This last stage can take anything from a few minutes to about 20.  In the picture above, you can see that the marmalade is already 'crinkly' and sticking to the sides of the pan - this happened after just a few minutes of adding the sugar, because the fruit contained a so much pectin.  DO NOT CONTINUE TO COOK AFTER IT HAS REACHED SETTING POINT.

9. Skim off the pips pips with a slotted spoon.  It is now ready to put into the sterilized jars.  TAKE EXTRA CARE BECAUSE THE HOT SUGARY MIXES LIKE THIS CAN BURN BADLY.  I use a small metal jug to decant it. Cover the jars with a clean tea towel until it has cooled down then put lids on.  If you put the lids on while it is hot, condensation forms and can make it go mouldy.  

NOTE:  The process of writing this - in a way that is clear to others - has made me realize just how much I have learned along the way - firstly from my mother.  I hope you too find it useful and pass it on to someone else.;postID=323239880205794218

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What is wrong with my papaya?

First of all - a big THANK YOU to the nearly 15,000 people who have logged on to to this blog since I started just a year ago.  I have absolutely loved sharing this information with you - finding the process of research and writing both stimulating and rewarding.  As I said to my husband the other day - I never know where this blog is going to take me - his reply, "Up the garden path"!!

Note the mottled leaves, brown dead leaves and spotted fruit

When I came back from my trip overseas we had been away for over two months and the
garden looked mostly OK.  But, one plant looking very sick was my papaya. I had struggled for a while to keep it disease free but now had definitely lost the battle.

 1. Black spots on the underside of the leaves, with them eventually turning brown and dropping off, and accompanying black spots on the fruit. 
2. Large necrotic spots on fruit and rotting of fruit.
ANTHRACNOSE affected fruit - note the pinkish sunken spots that eventually rot large areas of the fruit.

WHAT IS IT?  TWO different FUNGAL diseases that are common to this part of the world and anywhere that has high rainfall and subsequent high humidity.

1.  BLACK SPOT - Asperisporum caricae - a fungal disease which causes the black spots on the underside of the leaves, and while mostly cosmetic on the fruit this condition does affect the overall vigour of the tree (by reducing the ability of the plant to photosynthesize). Plants are more susceptible in cooler months.

2.  ANTHRACNOSE - Colletotrichium gloeaporides - this is a fungal disease that causes watery spots on the fruit and then rapid rotting and spoiling of all the fruit.  It starts as dark sunken spots or lesions and pinkish spore masses may form on the spots.  This can also affect harvested fruit if the fungus has take a hold.  This disease is spread in water droplets and is worse in warm, humid weather.  It can also be spread by infected seed.

My quest in trying to clearly to define these from 'expert' sources had definitely led me up the garden path - even my local fruit nursery misdiagnosed the problem.  So, I suppose the lesson here is that you have to observe closely and do your own research. 

The most important thing I learned was- PROBLEMS WITH PAPYAS ARE CLOSELY LINKED TO NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES IN THE SOIL - fix the soil, fix your papayas.  Now, read on..................!
BLACK SPOT affected leaves and fruit on papaya


CHOOSE THE RIGHT PLANT:  Check before you plant that they are healthy and disease free.

WHERE TO PLANT:  Papayas like a well-mulched soil that is free draining.  Try to plant away from other shrubbery as a free air flow will help to reduce fungal spores from spreading.

SOIL PREPARATION:  Papayas are very susceptible to nutrient deficiency which weakens the plant and renders them more vulnerable to these fungal attacks.  

Black Spot is often a condition affecting plants deficient in POTASSIUM, PHOSPHORUS and MAGNESIUM.

Anthracnose affected plants are often lacking in CALCIUM and NITROGEN.

What this tells me is that the heavy rain we have had in recent times has depleted the soil of nutrients AND that papayas need regular feeding to keep them happy - a bit like us really!

1.  Check the pH (see UNDERSTANDING SOILS at top of page) - the wrong pH can 'lock-up' nutrients.  They don't like acid soils - which is what we get after long periods of rain.

2.  MULCH, MULCH and more MULCH - this will help to stop the nutrients from leaching away, add vital organic matter and essential nutrients.  Lucerne mulch is particularly good for increasing potassium/potash.

3.  GIVE THE SOIL A DOSE OF EPSOM SALTS - this is magnesium sulphate and will help with any magnesium deficiency.

4.  GET INTO GOOD HABITS - feed the soil!!! - remember food is only as good as the soil it is grown in - chicken manure, rock dust and a soil drench of trace elements after heavy rain.  Regular liquid feeding of the soil with COMPOST TEA (see previous post) or seaweed fertilizer will do the trick.

1.  Rip them out and start again somewhere else in the garden - mine had been crowded out by other plants and I needed to put them somewhere with a better flow of air around them and more sunlight.  Destroy all affected plants.

2. You can cut pawpaw's back quite hard, almost to ground level, and they will re-shoot from the main stem.  When there is a flush of new growth DO A PREVENTATIVE SPRAY OF A COPPER BASED COMPOUND.

The same PAPAYA - now healthy - after cutting right back, feeding with an organic fertiliser (compost and rotted manures - which helps to correct pH imbalance and provide the macro-nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and calcium), mulching and applying some complete trace elements (supplying all the essential micro-nutrients like iron, manganese, boron etc) and monthly liquid feeds with compost tea during spring and summer.