About this blog

My photo
Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Mushroom paté

Having dried some mushrooms to a crisp for storage...

Jars of dried mushrooms. Ian says the chanterelles look like small, dried octopi

... I got to wondering what I might do with them in this state, apart from rehydrating and adding to stews and suchlike. As a first step, I tried powdering them, potentially for using as stock. It turns out that a pestle and mortar makes short work of this job. I haven't yet tried it, but I imagine I could make a pretty good smooth mushroom sauce from this powder.

Today, I had another idea. I had an open tub of mascarpone cheese in the fridge, which I'm quite partial to at the best of times. I took a large dollop of that and mixed it with my powdered mushrooms - about half and half cep and chanterelle - and, um, that was it. It took quite a bit of mixing, and the result is a fairly firm paté, as the dried mushrooms absorb moisture from the cheese.

Mushroom paté

Wow, this is sublime! Of course, the crucial part is finding the right mushrooms in the first place (and note that this is only suitable for mushrooms that can be eaten raw), but once they've got as far as the storage jar, this is a very easy treat. I'm counting this one as a success.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Mouli review

I spend quite a lot of my time pushing stewed fruit through a sieve, especially at this time of year, when there's so much fruit in the hedgerows. It's very hard work and I've broken several sieves in the process, so as the most recent victim parted company from its handle, I wondered whether it might be time to invest in something that's actually designed for the job of pureeing fruit whilst leaving skin and stones behind.

Discussion on the selfsufficientish forum had alerted me to two possible options, a mouli and a passata maker, originating in France and Italy respectively, the latter being designed for processing tomatoes. I sought advice on which would be best, and found that our local cookshop had a reasonably priced mouli for sale. I discussed it with the shopkeeper, and neither of us thought the screen fine enough to sieve out blackberry pips, so I went back to the forum to ask and, reassured, returned and bought the mouli. I do love that shop - I wish I could afford to buy kitchen equipment for often, but perhaps it's just as well I can't, for the sake of my cupboard space.

Anyway, here's the new gadget:

Mouli, in pieces

It comes apart into three pieces, or five if you count the spare screens with different sized holes. There's a bowl part into which the to-be-pureed food goes. In the bottom of this is a disk/screen with holes in, and this is held in place by a third piece, which fits into the bowl and includes a spring to hold the screen down, a blade (not sharp) to push the food against the screen, and a handle to operate it. This might be clearer if you see it in action:

Stewed damsons in the mouli. I chose the medium screen for this.

One feature of this particular mouli is that it doesn't have legs on the bottom for standing it over a bowl, just hooks at the top. This means that if fitted over a bowl, there isn't much room for the puree to come out at the bottom. Luckily, it fits very nicely over a ten litre bucket, though it is a little difficult to find a comfortable working height.

My first attempt was stewed damsons, as shown in the picture above. The stones are relatively large, which I find difficult to deal with in a sieve. Recipes often advise taking the stones out before pushing it through a sieve, but that takes ages. So how did the mouli handle it? Brilliantly! This is definitely the right tool for the job. It's still a manual tool, so it's not effortless, but it's a lot easier than the sieve, and it does the job very effectively. I found that the handle needs turning in both directions; clockwise to push the mush against the screen, then anticlockwise to lift it away again. It's also necessary to use a spoon to push stuff down to the bottom, especially as it gets drier.

My next attempt was mashed potato, as I've heard people say how much nicer it is made with a mouli (I'm skeptical). Optimistically, I wondered whether I might be able to boil small potatoes with their skins on then have the mouli extract the skins as it mashes them. No, it doesn't. Oh well, it was worth a try. I also found that, for a meal-sized quantity, transferring the potato to a metal mouli, and then into another container, cooled it a lot. On the other hand, if you have a quantity of blighted potatoes that you want to mash in large quantities to freeze, it's just the thing.

Mouli'd potatoes, through the largest screen

For the third test, another batch of hedgerow fruit for fruit leather, this time crab apple and blackberry. Can a mouli really sieve out blackberry pips, even using the finest screen?

Fruit leather, drying on the rack in the conservatory

Yes. Yes, it can. At least, I haven't found a pip in the pulp I've sampled so far.

EDIT: Now the leather is dry, it's clear that a few pips got through, but I still think it's not bad.

A few blackberry pips got through

The only problem I've come up against is that this gadget processes such large quantities (the one I bought is big; smaller ones are available) that I don't have enough baking sheets to spread the pulp out on.

As you can probably tell, I'm very pleased with my new gadget. It takes more washing up than a sieve, but with just three parts it's not too bad, and it more than makes up for it in labour saved. It might even make it worthwhile to pick haws, as I'm curious to try hawthorn ketchup.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Spud harvest

At some point when I was looking the other way, my potatoes got blight.

The dead stems of the King Edwards are there, in amongst the weeds, if you look closely enough

We had a spell of cold, wet weather, which probably encouraged it, and I don't suppose those weeds helped, either.

Still, all is not lost. I dug up three bucket-fulls of spuds. I haven't weighed them all yet to see how this compares with previous years, but I think it's quite a bit down. Still, it's a lot to process all in one go. Why bother processing? I usually just put them in sacks in the store room. You see, the thing with blight is that if it's infected the tubers - and with that rain it's sure to have washed onto them - they rot in storage. I found a few rotten tubers in the ground, but most were fine. The only sign of blight was tiny brown spots, in some cases only visible when I peeled the potatoes. They're perfectly good for eating now, just not for storing.

You can't see the blight, but I know it's in there

If I want these to last, I need to do something with them. I have plenty of freezer space, so that's the obvious option, but raw potatoes don't freeze well. That it, they freeze just fine, but then go black and slimy when you thaw them, which is less than appetizing. They need to be at least par-boiled if they're to be frozen and thawed to an edible state. I thought I'd go a little further. If I'm bothering to wash, peel, chop and par-boil three buckets of spuds, I could put in just a little more effort so that I have something ready to put straight in the oven (or possibly microwave) when it comes out of the freezer.

We usually eat potatoes in three forms: Mashed, roasted, or chips (fries). I've been making frozen chips for several years, having figured out how to do it in response to a previous blight incident. I hear that mashed potatoes freeze well, so I boiled them up in large batches and deployed a new kitchen gadget for mashing them, of which more in another post. As for roasties, well if Aunt Bessie can do it, surely I can too? I usually par-boil them then roast in oil in the oven. For freezing, I par-boiled then applied the hot oil in the frying pan.

Trial batch of to-be-frozen roast potatoes

I tested the theory with a small batch of King Edwards, which cooked from frozen in about half an hour and were pretty good - perhaps a little dry, but we usually have gravy with a roast dinner, so that's not really a problem. I'm not sure whether the Desiree will be as good - they seemed less crisp when cool, as they went into the freezer, but hopefully they'll crisp up again when cooked.

This is a work in progress. I tried bracing myself to do the whole lot at once, but it seems that I don't have sufficient stamina for the job. With all that hot oil and fat, it takes a lot of concentration. This is tiring! Also, with the harvest moon this week, I've been harvesting other veg too. The stock of frozen peas and green beans is increasing, and I cut my first ever cob of sweetcorn.

First sweetcorn

Hm, not quite what I'd hoped for, but better than it might have been, and it was tasty.