Being Frugal with Fermented Vegetable Scraps!

I haven’t got very far with culturing vegetables yet (though right now I have cabbage and carrots fermenting, my first batch of water kefir on its second ferment and second batch on its first, and yoghurt – which I’m making every other day right now – just finished and setting in the fridge), but this seems like a great frugal tip:

A jar of shredded cabbage with scattered grated carrot, fermenting in brineOne more tip that some people don’t think of is to save those vegetable peelings and scraps. Carrots, zucchini, parsnips, celery, broccoli and cauliflower stalks and more can be washed well and cultured.

To do so simply set aside your vegetable scraps for a few days in the refrigerator until you have enough. Then wash them really well since they are the roughest parts of the vegetables. Then chop into small chunks and throw into a jar. Make a brine with a water to salt ratio of 1 quart to 3 tablespoons. Pour the brine over and allow to culture. Makes a great multi-colored condiment for your plate.

Like in many aspects of kitchen work, culturing can be done frugally and sustainably with only a small amount of extra effort. Waste not, want not.

From Cultures for Health: Getting Frugal with Cultured Foods.

(PS I haven’t actually decided to revive this blog as such, but this seemed too long to put on the Sustainable Suburbia Facebook Page – which was my original plan – but not quite right for Sustainable Suburbia itself. So here it is. Maybe there’ll be more, maybe there won’t 🙂 )

Making Quark Cream Cheese, aka Yo-Cheese

I made a batch of yoghurt a couple of days ago that came out a bit runny. I’m not really sure why. The kids had been asking for yoghurt with flavours other than those I’ve figured out how to make from scratch, so I used 4 tbsp of the boysenberry Easiyo sachet, which I’ve found in the past is plenty, and for good measure I put in the last tbsp of a tub of Jalna yoghurt that was in the fridge as well. So I was surprised to open up the Easiyo thermos the next morning and find that the yoghurt hadn’t set very well – it was not very thick and kind of stretchy.

It had been about 12 hours and the water was more or less cold, so I carefully removed the yoghurt container and refilled the thermos with hot water (not fully boiling though) and left it for another five or six hours. By then the yoghurt was set better but still not as thick as usual, so I decided it would be a good candidate for “draining” to thicken it up. I wasn’t planning on actually making quark, I was just going to drain it for a couple of hours. I’ve had extra thick yoghurt at my mum’s house before where she had done that and it was pretty yum.

Well, 36 hours later it was still in the fridge, so… quark it is!

a 'pat' of quark, tipped out of the cheese cloth onto a blue plate

Only, I’ve never really liked sweetened cheeses, and although this wasn’t very sweet it wasn’t that cheese-like to me either. So we just ate it like regular yoghurt, by the bowl full. I’m not really sure what else you would do with it, although if it were a little less thick I could imagine having it instead of cream or ice cream with a bowl full of berries or a slice of chocolate mud cake. Actually, we could still have done it even with it being this thick if we had any berries or chocolate cake! Then again, we do that with regular yoghurt too.

We got through more about half in one sitting:

half eaten quark cream cheese

In other news, there are people on my roof installing solar panels as I type. One whole side of the roof (facing ENE) will be covered. Unfortunately ACTPLA can’t get here to approve it until August! So we still won’t actually have solar power for another month, meaning the whole process from when we started getting quotes will have taken about seven or eight months. That’s what extra good government incentives “ending soon” will do for an industry I guess. (And they have ended now, or at least reduced dramatically, but we got in with our deposit ages ago, so we’re okay!)

Quark, birthday parties, bread and broken arms. Oh, and burned chicken stock!

What I have been doing lately, while I haven’t been updating this blog…

Making birthday party invitations and party bags with my big five-year-old daughter Mikaela:

Making bread rolls with slightly old yeast and no where near enough time for them to rise (they were still yummy, but a bit dense!):

Making quark (this is an experiment that is not yet complete – it’s been draining for about 4 hours at this point, and I’ve just opened it up to take the photo):

yoghurt draining through cheese cloth into a bowl

Waiting for hours in hospital for various people to look at, X-ray and operate on that same daughter’s arm, only then she was still four. She broke it and needed pins put in. Ouch. But the cast is awesome, and waterproof!!

Hot pink cast from wrist to shoulder (almost)

Oh and making my house smell vile for days on end, despite leaving many windows wide open everytime we left the house (it was too cold to have them open when we were here), by leaving chicken stock on the stove overnight (not even on low) an burning it to a cinder. Oops. I didn’t take a photo of that one!

This is all well and good, but what I am doing tomorrow, is finally getting solar panels put on my roof! Very exciting.

Where I got my yoghurt information

This post is just by way of an acknowledgement, because I’ve written a few posts about my yoghurt making experiments, but could never figure out just where it was that I got the milk powder tip… well it was from Christine at Slow Living Essentials. She has a great two part post about making yogurt. It’s also in the comments on that post that I first read about using UHT milk to avoid the heating and cooling step – which I think I had attributed to my mother (but she says she doesn’t do that).

Vegetarian Dishes: Liam’s Incan Bean Stew

A tortilla in a bowl filled with a pumpkin, tomato and nave bean stewLast week Liam* and I went hunting for some haricot beans to cook a bean stew recipe from a book on the Incas that my mother gave him for Christmas. It took us a while, but eventually we discovered that haricot beans are what we call navy beans, which are also the beans in baked beans.

Anyway, we made the stew and Liam made himself a bowl inside his bowl out of a tortilla, and heaped the stew inside. And, he declared the whole meal delicious. He’s not always terribly keen on new food, but whether it was having chosen itnd cooked it himself out of his own book, or the novelty of serving it in a tortilla bowl, he loved this meal. Or, you know, maybe it just was delicious! Because actually, everyone except my four-year-old daughter enjoyed it. And she didn’t actually try it!

Of course, the recipe as written was a little too spicey so we modified it to suit our tastes. This is how we made it:

250g dried haricot (navy) beans
4 tomatoes
500g pumpkin (after removing skin and seeds)
2 tsp Paprika (the original recipe called for 2tbs, which seemed to spicy for us, but play with it to get the level you like)
mixed herbs
black pepper
100g sweetcorn

1. Wash the beans thoroughly in cold water, then put them in a large bowl and cover them with more cold water. Leave them to soak 3-4 hours.

2. Drain the beans and place them in a large saucepan. Cover with yet more cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for two hours or until tender.

3. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes finely, peel the pumpkin and chop it into 2cm cubes.

4. Heat 100ml of water in a medium saucepan. Stir in the paprika and bring to the boil. Add the tomatoes along with a good sprinkling of mixed herbs, plus salt and pepper to taste. You may need to add a little more of these later when you have added everything else, just do a taste test to see. Simmer for 15 minutes or until thick and well blended.

5. Drain the beans then return them to the large saucepan. Add the pumpkin and the tomato mixture and stir well. Simmer for another 15 minutes.

6. Add the sweet corn and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the pumpkin has almost distintegrated and the stew is quite thick.

7. Do a taste test – see if you need to add more salt or pepper. Sun gods and sacrifices, the lost world of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans

8. Serve in bowls. We served it with rice and tortillas. The book also suggested corn bread as an accompaniment.

Simple but delicious.

The book is called Sun gods and sacrifices, the lost world of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans by Fiona McDonald & Philip Steele. It also has other craft activities, from making feather fans to mozaic masks to a full size felt Inca tunic! Liam hasn’t actually done any of the other craft activities (most probably need some level of parent involvement), but he has been enjoying reading the book. The next thing he wants to do is try the recipe for making our own tortillas.
*Have I been cagey about the kid’s names? I just can’t do it anymore – Liam is my nine year old.

This post is linked to Delectable Tuesday and Meatless (Vegan) Mondays and Real Food Wednesday .

Super Easy Tomato Basil Soup

The other night I served a winner for dinner- at least as far as Master Eight & Mr Sustainable Suburbia were concerned. Ms Just-Turned-One didn’t like it and Ms Four wouldn’t try it, but hey, three out of five (I include myself) is about the best I can hope for – and it’s especially gratifying that everyone who did eat it had seconds.

So, here’s the recipe. Now, I just made this up as I went along out of ingredients I had on hand, and I didn’t measure anything, but it’s pretty straight forward.


1 medium sweet potato, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled
1 parsnip, peeled
3 bunches baby bok choy, washed thoroughly (I used the leaves and stems)
About a cup of chopped fresh basil, loosely packed
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can puréed tomatoes
1 375ml jar summer tomato & basil pasta sauce (the brand was Bertolli’s Five Brothers)
2 tbsp tomato paste
About 1-1.5 litres of water
About 0.5-0.75 tsp salt
About 1.5 tsp sugar

Chop the veggies – you’re going to purĂ©e them, so how small you chop them will depend on how long you have to cook them. I put them on at about 2pm and purĂ©ed them about 5.30, so Iwas able to cut them fairly big.

Chuck them in a large saucepan (at least five litres) with the water and canned and jarred goods. Add the tomato purée and the roughly chopped basil.

Simmer until everything is soft, ideally at least an hour to give the flavours time to mix. Two is probably better. Blend (I used a stick blender) until relatively smooth (or until you get the texture you want really), then add salt and sugar (which removes some of the tartness of the tomato) to taste.

Cook for a bit longer, then serve with grated cheese and your favourite bread. We had Turkish bread with it, which was yum. Even those who turned their noses up at the soup enjoyed the bread!

Update on making yoghurt from scratch in an Easiyo

I mentioned that when I made the yoghurt with regular milk in the Easiyo I heated it and then cooled it to cold (not 40 degrees as is usually recommended). This is because with the Easiyo, which is designed for use with the Easiyo sachet and cold water, you fill it with boiling water, to warm the milk and keep it at growing temperature. Whereas usually when you’re making yoghurt from scratch you just put it in a thermos or something to keep it warm. So, I read that you need to use cold milk when making yoghurt in the Easiyo, so that the boiling water doesn’t overheat it and kill the starter culture.

Anyway, this is all working up to say that my mum has bought an Easiyo, and she made yoghurt in it from scratch but only cooled the milk to 40 degrees and it worked fine.

What all this (combined with my last post) leads me to think, is that it really is very easy to make yoghurt and you really don’t have to be all that precise to make it work. But, don’t use xylitol in it!

Edited to add: I have now put together all my making yoghurt experience into one article on the main Sustainable Suburbia site: How to Make Yoghurt From Scratch in an Easiyo Yogurt Maker.

Making yoghurt with Xylitol – or not!

I had my first failure in my making yoghurt from scratch experiments. I thought I’d try a coffee flavoured yoghurt, and at the last minute I decided to sweeten it with Xylitol instead of sugar or honey.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol derived from birch bark, strawberries and corn cobs among other things. It has a very low GI (of around 7), can replace sugar virtually spoon for spoon, for somewhere around 1/2-3/4 the calories and, most importantly, inhibits the bacteria that causes tooth decay. For that reason many dentists are now recommending using it, for instance by sucking on a couple of Xylitol mints after a meal, or in tooth paste.

However, when I used Xylitol in my yoghurt, guess what happened? Nothing. Nothing happened. I opened my litre of supposed yoghurt 10 hours later, and it was still just slightly yoghurty flavoured coffee milk. My guess is that Xylitol not only inhibits the bacteria that causes tooth decay, but also the bacterias that cause yoghurt. Which is kind of interesting, given those bacterias (bactieri?) are also important for a healthy gut. So that’s something I’ll be looking into a bit more.

In the mean time, I made a lovely lemon yoghurt yesterday with 1 tsp lemon essence, 2 tbsp sugar, 1 & 1/4 cups milk powder* (I think I used a cup of full cream milk powder and 1/4 cup skim, but I mix up the ratio depending on the day) and enough milk to make it up to a litre. Oh, and a tsp of Easiyo natural yoghurt powder, because I’d run out of the previous batch of yoghurt. It’s delicious, but tomorrow I’m going to try coffee again, only this time, without the Xylitol!


* I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’m using milk powder now in my yoghurt mostly, which avoids the step of heating and cooling the milk, since the drying process has the same effect on the milk protein as the heating does (buying UHT milk does this too, which is what my Mum does – she’s just started making it from scratch too, and in fact just bought herself an Easiyo from the supermarket). It’s heaps quicker and saves me having to buy milk even more often – we already go through 2-3 litres a day in this family! I got this idea from another blogger, but I will have to figure out who it was and link later, because right now Ms 11 months is getting very crotchety!

edited to add: Apparently my mother doesn’t use UHT milk, she uses Aldi’s Organic milk which is “ultra pasturised”. She has used it both heated and straight out of the fridge and it worked both ways. I have read that you can use UHT milk without heating it though.

The bounty of the backyard food forest

Lush vegie garden

The vegie garden in better times

There is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own food.

I hadn’t harvested any rhubarb since I made the rhubarb pies in November, and we’ve had an incredible amount of rain here this summer, which rhubarb evidently likes, so when I went to pick some t’other day there was a huge harvest to be had. Meanwhile my Mum has just come by to collect some of our lemons – we have a prolific lemon tree – to use with the six or so kilos of apricots she’s picked off their apricot tree to make some apricot jam and stewed apricots.

I remember when I was a child, going out to the vegetable garden with my Mum to pick some vegies and bringing them in in a washing basket. Even then it always felt so satisfying, like there was just something inherently good about being able to provide for ourselves from our own garden.

Our vegetable garden this year is almost a complete right off. For a number of reasons, not least among them the presence of Ms TenMonths in our lives, it has been dreadfully neglected. Combined with being neglected at the end of last summer and the rain we had in December, this means the garden is now overrun with weeds. We had lots of lettuce and silverbeet earlier but that’s all gone to seed now. The two tomato plants I managed to get into the ground are struggling on, but they need to be fed. The corn Mr Eight planted is doing okay, but that’s about all there is. Even the parsley’s had it, a combination of too much water and then too much heat I think.

Still, the rhubarb is doing fine, the comfrey is ridiculous, the apple trees have their first fruits on them and the lemon tree is prolific as usual. And in another month when the two young chooks start laying we should have more eggs than we can eat (the one who is laying gives us nearly enough on her own). And I know that in the next season or two we’ll get the vegie garden back on track (might have to put the chooks out there to weed it for me over winter). In the meantime, I plan to focus on getting more perennials in, like the rhubarb and fruit trees. The self seeding greens are great, but plants that stay there all year – and keep the weeds at bay – are even better.

In the kitchen

A slice of Impossible Pie with a scoop of stewed Rhubarb.Yesterday: Impossible Pie (recipe to come) & stewed rhubarb
Tomorrow: Apricot custard pie from Simply in Season, my birthday present from my best friend. Because, my Mum gave me a couple of kilos of apricots yesterday, and though the kids are giving it a good go, we can’t possibly eat them all fresh (and we still have two jars of the apricot and peach jam we made last year).

We’ve already made the Greek  Tomato Salad out of Simply in Season, and after the pie I want to try Rhubarb Muffins. They’re in the Spring section, but I just harvested a stack of rhubarb out of our garden, so I think they count as summer too! I also want to try the Lemon Thyme Bread, which sounds yum, doesn’t it?

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