Friday, August 8, 2014

Delicious Dulce de Leche

 Faithful Esse warms our home all winter long. She is insatiably hungry and needs to be fed daily. She is wonderfully versatile and if we employ her to her full potential, she is perfect for preparing dishes that require long simmering or slow roasting.

Surplus milk plus warm hearted Esse were the catalysts that sparked the idea for a new Rosewood Country Kitchen product... Dulce de Leche.

The recipe is simple: Litres and litres of creamy jersey milk, heaps of sugar, vanilla pods, a couple of pinches of this and that ... and hours and hours of bubbling and stirring until we have our first batch of jars filled with dreamy caramelised milk.

Perfect for topping cakes, filling swiss rolls, topping cupcakes, topping desserts and ice-cream and, best of all, decadently eating off a teaspoon.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT: Vin d'Orange

I kept some oranges aside from the lovely gift of oranges that I used for marmalade, for further experimentation. I wanted to see how many interesting things I could do with the seville oranges. I used a few of them in a delicious autumn soup of mixed root vegetables, pumpkin and chorizo, and then I found a promising recipe in the book Salt Sugar Smoke, Colette's Vin d'Orange.

Weigh out 500g oranges. 

Chop them roughly.

Place them in a large, sterilised jar. Pour over a bottle of white wine. Stand the jar in a cool dark place for 2 weeks.

Strain the liquid, add sugar to taste and 1/3 cup of brandy. Pour into a pretty glass bottle and see how long you can keep it before you taste it.

If you are anything like me, you will drink it before you have a chance to photograph it. It is that delicious.

A Late Winter Morning

It's early Sunday morning. Kariba, my red-brown Rhodesian Ridgeback stirs in her bed. The moment she sees me open my eyes she begins to whine quietly, asking to go outside.
"Do you want to go outside? I ask her.
Immediately she sits up smartly in her bed and wags her tail, her eyes never leaving mine. I throw back the puffy bedcovers and swing my sock-clad feet onto the wooden floor, trying not to creak the old floorboards as I put on my slippers and dressing gown and head towards the kitchen. Tag, the fat Jack Russel joins us. Kariba and Tag politely sit while I unlock the back door. The instant it is open a crack, our two male Ridgebacks barge into the kitchen, pushing and shoving Kariba back inside. I open the door wide and call them all outside so that, in their exuberance, they don't wake Grant. It is quite common for him to receive slobbery kisses from three of our four dogs while he is still trying to sleep. The click-clacking of their toenails on the floor is enough to disturb any pleasant dreams.

The sun has just risen and there is no frost on the bleached lawn. It is cool, but warm enough for me to wander outside, enjoying the dogs' romping in the morning light. I walk into the chicken yard and up the slope, towards the henhouse. On my way I startle our two piglets who are stealing the remains of the grain thrown down for the chickens last night. They run towards me, grunting and squealing, expecting me to give them breakfast, but I see that they still haven't finished their dinner last night. We had mixed it with water instead of the usual whey, as I hadn't made any cheese yesterday. The piglets would rather snout around and root up the grass that I am coaxing to grow in the chicken yard, than eat their leftover dinner.

There is a lot of jostling and clucking coming from the white henhouse as the chickens crowd around the wire gate waiting to be let out for the day. Arrietty and Homily do not budge from their nests as the rest of the flock pour out into the morning. Arrietty, a pretty young hen dotted in shades of white, black and orange, is sitting on six eggs. They should hatch any day now. She warns me with a throaty high pitched warble as I reach my hand under her, but doesn't peck me. There are no signs of cracks on the warm pink-brown eggs, nor do I hear any tiny peeps from beneath her feathers. I leave brown and black speckled Homily alone. The last time I looked she was sitting in the nesting box, all broody with nothing beneath her. A little later on, when I am collecting the morning's eggs, I will check whether she has laid any. If not I will give her all the eggs for the next three days. I was hoping for eggs for breakfast this morning, but yesterday we only found one. There is some chervil growing in a pot on our kitchen windowsill and I have a craving for a cheesy chervil omelette.  Oh well, it will have to be muesli instead.

I turn the lever for the chicken's water trough and make my way out the henhouse yard, past the piglets in the large chicken yard, out the gate and into the vegetable tunnel. The piglets look up with brown, sandy snouts and then turn their backs, ignoring me, and continue digging up the grass. There is not much growing in the tunnel besides cabbages. Most of the beds are resting, covered in a dry grass mulch, waiting for the frosty winter to pass. I turn the round red tap next to the spindly leeks at the top of the tunnel and water gushes into the chicken trough. I have closed the chickens into their smaller henhouse yard to encourage the hens to think about laying their eggs in the henhouse. There is enough uneaten grain in there to keep them busy. I stand at the fence that separates the henhouse yard from the veggie tunnel, watching the social interaction between the chickens. The two young charcoal coloured roosters crow again and again and stretch their proud wings. I notice that when I throw some cabbage leaves over the fence, they do not dare join the fray in fear of the old patriarch, Mr Montgomery. Our sole winter chick, a still peeping grey hen-chick scuttles after her little grey mother, Mary Thompson. Old Mrs Montgomery and Peg, with her gammy leg, have faded combs and I am sure that they have stopped laying for good. They leave that job to the young hens. We have fifteen chickens now.

I pull up two baby turnips on my way out the tunnel and once back in the big chicken yard, I call the piglets over. They rush towards me and are each rewarded with a turnip. Back in the henhouse yard, I turn the valve again to shut off the water to the chicken trough that has been overflowing and running down the slope while I was watching the flock. There is a sudden spray of water hitting plastic as the irrigation line along the back of the tunnel fills and sprays up onto the plastic and drips back down on the slow-growing leeks. It has been too long since I made leek pie. By now fat leeks should have been replaced with broad beans in that bed. We were slow in planting them last summer and they did not have a chance to strengthen before the icy weather came.

The disgruntled chickens stand at the gate as I leave them shut in the smaller yard. The piglets, seeing me back in their space, run behind me, nibbling at my furry slippered heels. It is very cute, but a slight anxiety grips me as I walk quickly away from them, and one piglet  runs faster, keeping up with my heels. They haven't bitten yet, but I believe that pigs can bite. I distract them by running water into an empty container and slip out the gate and back inside. Kariba follows me in and settles back into her bed, and so do I. Grant is just waking and greets me with a sleepy hello.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Small Town Market

It is a lazy Saturday morning. The cold sun is casting pale light on the creamy white curtains. We are lounging in bed, avoiding the inevitable tidying, sorting and dish washing after a successful Moonlight Market last night. We did well at the market. It is rewarding to see people queuing at our stall, squabbling over the last two custard filled croissants or encouraging their friends to taste our new caramel cream sauce.

I love the markets and the chance to interact with friends and familiar faces in our small town. It is the two monthly markets that helped me to feel more a part of this community. It is gratifying to prepare treats for folk who are so appreciative. Nicol and Klaradyn, in their generosity, open up their restaurant garden for a first Friday of the month market under the stars. When I asked Klaradyn why we can't pay to set up our stall, she answered that it is something they must do. Their foresight and kindness has enhanced the sense of community in this nook of the Eastern Free State.

I have learned which customers like which products, and we try to satisfy them at each market. Hilli, who lives alone always buys a small tub of plain cream cheese. Ed the engineer who teases me about leaving the profession, and Jessica, his wife, want some garlicky hummus. Alexis, a delightfully dignified horsey lady, phoned me at home before one winter market to find out whether we would be there in the cold weather, and whether I would be making pannacotta, a vanilla cream dessert. She returns my used tubs for recycling and always brings a carrier bag for me to fill with a selection from the table. Brian nags for honey when we have decided not to sell any more, Candy can't get enough croissants, Sue loves our bacon, and Karen will only buy the pannacotta when it is in the wide shallow tubs and not the deep narrow ones where her teaspoon cannot reach all the way to the bottom of the tub in one scoop.

I love these people. They have taught me to love this town. The second Saturday morning of the month farmer's market, set up as a tea garden on Fonteyn and Zoe's farm has its regulars too. The two Carols almost always come, one buys halloumi and the other a tub of thyme chabrie marinated in olive oil with garlic and rosemary. Willie and Annelieze usually chat to me in their Swiss German accents and always buy something. They are interesting and interested. I met Liz and JB, an American missionary couple at this market. They love my ice-creams so much, especially the coconut ice cream, that they will drive all the way from Lesotho to our farm, when they have a craving for it. Pierre, the Canadian Frenchman enjoys a chocolate croissant with his morning coffee.

I usually treat myself to a pot of tea at the morning market, and a punnet or two of seedlings for my garden bought from Alita, a headmistress for a local Christian school and a gracious lady. She is my age, but something about her reminds me of my mum. Last month I came home with a tray of tiny onion seedlings which are now planted in between the larger onions in our tunnel. They had been planted too far apart. I also buy at least six R4 samosas from the lovely Muslim couple whose stall is next to mine. He does catering for a living and has kindly agreed to collect glass jars for me. Having enough jars to preserve the summer harvest is always a challenge.

I could go on and on about the wonderful people in this wonderful town, but I am afraid I might bore you. So, with purse full and heart considerably fuller, I get up late, shower, wash my hair and prepare to spend most of my Saturday tackling the mountain of dishes waiting in the kitchen sink. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fast Food: Eggs Florentine

Sometimes I need a night off and really don't feel like cooking. Sometimes that feeling lasts for days. Back in Cape Town we would have bought take-aways for dinner on days like that. Here on the farm, it would take longer to drive to town and back for take-aways than it would take to rustle up fast food Elastic Mom style. Anyway,  greasy take-aways leave me feeling dissatisfied and disgusted after eating farm fresh all the time.

A while back I was having one of those cooking-is-the-last-thing-I-want-to-do moments. A little bit of thought, and I had a nourishing, yom-chomp dinner on the table in 15 minutes flat.

Set a small pot of water to boil
Pop some bread in the toaster
Warm up some leftover cheese sauce
Drop a sealed bag of our frozen chopped tunnel-grown swiss chard into the pot of boiling water and as soon as it has defrosted,  remove the bag and stir the contents into the cheese sauce.
Pour a dash of vinegar into the same boiling water and crack in three eggs to poach.

When the toast pops, plate it and spoon over the cheesy spinach sauce and top with perfectly poached eggs and season. Voila!

My men reacted as if I had made a gourmet meal for them. There was lots of lip smacking, yom yomming through dinner. If I had thought of it at the time, I would have added a classic few drops of Worcester Sauce onto each egg. So there it is, fast food at its best. I know that it required little bags of frozen spinach and some leftover cheese sauce, but that's my point...

We all have something better than take-away that we can rustle up faster than it takes to find the keys on those low-energy evenings.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Foraging for Nettles

Nettles popped up in our garden a while back. I was delighted as they are apparently very nourishing. This morning I decided to make nettle and potato soup, a variation on the one in Roots, Shoots and Leaves by Bernadette Le Roux. Wearing gloves, I picked a handful of the stinging weed, then washed and chopped them, ready for cooking.

A knob of Rosie's butter 
Only one too young leek because I have run out of onions and I shouldn't be picking the leeks yet. 
4-6 potatoes from storage, little shoots removed, peeled and chopped
Some stock - I used lamb stock made from a roast bone, but any stock will do. 
A handful of young nettle leaves, picked with kitchen gloves on. I would have picked more, but that was all there was in my garden and I did not feel like walking down to the old barn.  where I have seen them growing before. 

Gently sauté the leek in the butter. Add the potatoes and cover them with stock. Boil lightly until the potatoes are tender.
Add the nettles and simmer gently until just wilted. Purée the soup and stir in a generous glug of cream to thin the soup. Season to taste. 

Serve garnished with wild rocket flowers alongside toasted buttermilk bread and cream cheese with chives. Enjoy your lunch on the warm verandah looking towards the distant Maluti Mountains.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT: Apple Cider Vinegar

There was a bumper crop of apples on the farm this year. They are not sold commercially and are unsprayed. We were given a large number of crates of these lovely fruit that had been picked days before and were fast deteriorating. We made apple purée, apple jelly, apple cider, dried apples and apple sauce. I was most excited to try my hand at apple cider vinegar. It worked so well that I wish I had made more, enough to supply me in vinegar for the year. I love to use it in cooking and it is very expensive. Some people take it medicinally every day, so it has to be good. Best of all, it cost very little to make.



Wash and roughly chop the apples and, in my case, remove any wormy bits. Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of sugar for every 1/2 kg or so of apples. Place the apples in a large bucket and cover them with filtered water. Put a plate on the apples to keep them submerged. Leave them in a cool dark place away from fruit flies until the apples and liquid start fermenting. This will take a few days. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh ( I used milk filters) and place in large, sterilised jars. Cover the jars with clean cloths and secure with elastic bands. Place the jars in a cool dark place for at least six weeks

After six weeks you will see that fermentation has stopped. There will also be a film called the vinegar mother on the surface of the vinegar. My one jar formed a thick mother, and the other jar formed a thin mother.

The mother can be used to start a new vinegar, or left in the jar. The vinegar can be kept sealed in the large jars, or siphoned into sterilised bottles for storage. Try not to disturb the sediment at the bottom of the jars so that the resulting bottles of vinegar will be clear.

I now have around four litres of apple cider vinegar. That works out to about 450ml vinegar per month until the next apple harvest. I wish I had made more, but it's a good start. As I always say, use it - don't lose it. I used a lot of apples, however we lost a whole lot more. Hopefully next year I will have more time and energy.