Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Saving Time and Energy with a Pressure Cooker

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

On Sunday night, I cooked our dinner in my pressure cooker.  Since this piece of cookware was given to me two years ago, I have used it at least twice a month and the results have always been outstanding,  just as I remember from my childhood.  My mother had a pressure cooker and preapared lots of the family meals in it.  Quick, simple and you can use very cheap cuts of meat that transform into a gourmet meal. 

Anyway, the meat was so tender, the tastes amazing, and it only took 30 minutes (once the pressure built up) to cook the meal! 

Before I cooked the first meal, I had to season the cooker by boiling 2 litres of milk and 3 litres of water. Apparently, because it is aluminium, this boiling of milk/water seals it and stops the stains from forming.

I started out simple and made a Beef Stew, with seasonal vegetables. Here is the recipe from memory, as I whipped it up on the fly when I cooked it.
Gavin's Beef Stew

500gm Stewing Steak or any cheap cut of red meat, 2 cm cubes
3 large potatoes, diced 2 cm cubes
1 stick of celery, chopped coarsely
1 large onion, slices
3 large carrots, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
100gm mushrooms, sliced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 litre beef stock, low sodium
3 tablespoons cornflour
3 tablespoons gravy powder
1 half cup water
2 tablespoons oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil, add onion, garlic, rosemary and celery to soften. Add beef and brown. Add remaining vegetables and stock, seal pressure cooker, and cook for 30 minutes from when the control valve starts to jiggle, reduce heat so valve just moves. After 30 minutes, turn off heat, reduce pressure as per cooker instructions and remove lid. Make a paste out of water, cornflour, gravy powder and thicken stew. Bring to boil with lid off, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes and crusty bread. Serves 6 with sufficient seconds!

A fantastically simple meal, and it was very hearty on a cold Sunday evening after working in the garden all day. I could not believe how tender the meat was, especially after only cooking for 30 minutes. Kim was very impressed, because she is normally put off by beef because of its chewiness. Normally that type of steak would take at least 90 minutes to get to that stage in the oven. The vegetables all kept their natural favour and were really distinct in the mouth, with the potato breaking down just enough to help thicken the stew.

This type of cooking is not only energy efficient (I cooked on the medium gas ring on the lowest setting), but you can utilise the cheapest cuts of meat, and they will be tender in no time. I reckon that even game, such as kangaroo and emu would become very tender in a short time. Every time I have attempted to cook roo it has been tough as old boots! I might give it another go now.

I also found heaps of recipes on the net.  The model I have is a SILAMPOS Classic aluminium 10 litre which is made in Portugal.  It was simple to figure out how it worked and the instruction manual was easy to understand. I would recommend this cookware to anyone who wants to lock in nutrition, and to cook meals quicker without resorting to processed fast food.

Since I bought this energy saving cooking pot, I have used it to make  many  great meals that have warmed the cockles of my family's heart.

Do you know any simple pressure cooker recipes that you would like to share?

Monday, 6 December 2010

(modified) Pretzels

by Francesca

pretzels 1

When I wrote about Batch Baking, I mentioned making pretzels, and a few of you asked how I make them. I make soft pretzels, which are traditionally made from a simple dough of flour, yeast, water and (usually) some butter, which is cut and rolled into strips that are looped in the distinctive pretzel shape, then boiled, sprinkled with salt, and baked. They are very easy to make, but a little time-consuming, because there are several steps involved. Pretzels make tasty snacks, and when stored in an air-tight container, they keep well for several days.

There are a number of excellent pretzel recipes online. I particularly like this traditional Bavarian Pretzel recipe, which has measurements both in metrics and cups, and also explains how you can have pretzels with a tall beer and white sausage slathered with sweet mustard as a mid-morning breakfast - I must remember to try that tomorrow morning!

However, I've made some changes to the original Bavarian Pretzel recipe. The flour I use is a mix of ⅔ whole wheat and ⅓ all-purpose flour, and I use a little extra-virgin olive oil to make the dough more elastic (though most pretzel recipes call for butter, this particular one has no butter or fat at all). Also, in line with our family's effort to reduce salt consumption, I don't sprinkle them with pure salt, but include sea salt, sesame seeds and fresh thyme in an egg glaze, and I spoon it over the pretzels before baking.

So, here's the recipe for my modified Bavarian Pretzels:

pretzel 2


Pretzel dough:

150 grams all purpose flour
350 grams whole wheat flour (total flour approx 4½ cups)
1 ½ cups warm water (approx)
1 package active dry yeast
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp brown sugar
½ tsp sea salt

For boiling:

saucepan half-full of water
baking soda (2 tbs per 1 cup of water)

Egg glaze:

4 tbs sesame seeds
½ tsp fresh thyme
4 tbs coarse sea salt
1 egg white

Stir the brown sugar and yeast into the warm water, letting the yeast dissolve. Add the all-purpose and whole wheat flours and the oil, and knead until the dough feels smooth. It should be firm and elastic, but not sticky. Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a dish-cloth, let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.

Line 2 or 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Add baking soda to water, bring the water to a boil. Pre-heat oven to 220C/450F.

Make the egg glaze: in a small electric mixer, combine seeds, thyme and salt, pulse a couple of times, add to the egg white, and beat well with a fork. (NOTE: the thyme may turn intense green during baking, probably as a reaction to the traces of baking soda on the pretzel's surface).

Divide the dough into 8 parts, roll out with your hands or on a work surface, and shape as a pretzel. To do this, you make a U shape, then take the ends, cross them over each other, and press them on the bottom of the U.

Place the pretzels in the boiling water one at a time, and leave for about 30 seconds each. They will puff up nicely as they boil. Scoop out each pretzel and place on a cookie sheet.

Spoon the egg glaze over the pretzels. Bake until golden brown (about 10 minutes).

PS Because in my family we are preparing to celebrate Christmas, I also modified the traditional looped pretzel shape slightly, to make a batch of holiday-shaped pretzels (here)!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Introducing myself

Aurora, at Island Dreaming.

This is my first post here; so I will take this opportunity to introduce myself. I am battling a bug at the moment, I apologise that this is short and photo-light.

I have always been interested in environmental issues. My university education was focused upon the technical aspects of solving various environmental problems - waste management, contaminated land and water resource management. Throughout my degree I had begun to feel unease at a huge disconnect between the science and sustainability of the ever more complex solutions being promoted. It was during this period that I began to read about peak oil, resource depletion and climate change. Several books I read at this time were focused on how societies as a whole choose to sink or swim - and that those that add more and more layers of complexity to solve their spiralling problems tend to sink. All of this made sense to me, but offered me little direction for making a positive difference with my life.

The arrival of our son in 2008 spurred us to action. The last two years we have focused mainly upon our finances and a push to pay off our debts and start saving for the future. At the same time we have begun to learn and relearn old skills. Sometimes these save us money - cooking with wholefoods, brewing beer and wine making. We have begun to declutter the house and streamline our activities so that we can make the most of our time together. In the year ahead I would like to focus more on the garden, energy usage and our wider environmental impact. I now know that the only way forward is if every household and individual takes responsibility for their own consumption habits and recognises when enough is enough.

In the time since I graduated, the world has spun into financial chaos, oil and food prices have seen increasing volatility and austerity budgets are sweeping the western world. Inspite of all of this, I sometimes wonder if I have made the right decision. Sometimes I wonder if I am too frugal, if we are depriving our son by ploughing all of our resources into debt repayments and savings; and if we just maybe wouldn't be better off blowing a credit card on a family holiday to Disneyland. These moments pass, as 24 hour rolling news confirms my suspisions that we as a species are coming to some kind of crossroads that it would be wise to be prepared for.

I write about our everyday lives, experiments, failures and any passing thoughts I may have on these topics. I look forward to participating in the community here and sharing ideas for a more sustainable world.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Reusable Present Wrappings

I started a new job today, and just remembered it's my turn to write here. My brain is a bit overloaded at the moment, so I hope you don't mind if I just re-post one of mine from a couple of years ago - the information is still timely and useful:

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I'm not talking about re-using wrapping paper, although it can be done. Young mothers-to-be used to carefully undo the wrapping on their baby shower gifts so as to reuse the pretty paper as drawer liners in the nursery. Creases could be removed from ribbons by running them around a hot lightbulb, but that won't work with the cool swirled tubes that are now in my lamp fixtures (although a quick pass with a warm iron would still work). I'm also not talking about the advice you'll see in just about every home magazine to "make the wrapping part of the gift." However, that is a good idea, especially if you're sending presents off to somewhere else.

What I'm talking about is starting some kind of tradition within your own home. My in-laws had a couple of brightly-printed Disney garment boxes that would end up under the tree every year. I have them now. They fold down flat for storage along with the rest of the Christmas stuff, and are the perfect size to hold a book or new shirt - no wrapping required. Gift bags, too, get used year after year.

You probably have your own traditional gift wrappers already - the kids' stockings you hang up every year as part of your decor. So now, just expand that idea a little farther. I know Julie, one of my co-writers here, wrote about sewing re-usable fabric gift bags not too long ago. Of course, she might have to tie some good knots into the ribbons closing them up to keep the kids from peeking, but it's a really good idea. If you're not a sewer, you might be able to do the same thing next year with Christmas pillowcases found on the January clearance sale tables. Canning jars are also great re-usable packaging - whether giving home-canned preserves or gifts in a jar. Maybe your recipient will reuse them, or let them know they can always return the empties to you. We often come home to find empty jars, ale bottles, and egg cartons left by our front door.

We have one more option here at our house. Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of Christmas tins. Some are used year round - the red one holds buttons, a tall popcorn tin holds toys for when friends with young children stop by to visit. During the rest of the year, some of them make crush- and dust-proof storage containers for my lights and Christmas linens; others all nest, one inside the other like Russian dolls, for storage. But at Christmas time, they all end up under the tree - so many that I purposely leave the bottom tier of branches in the box to have enough room (that's Aries' first bicycle, down out of the garage rafters, completing the display). Some will periodically end up on my kitchen counter through the season, holding home-baked goodies until I put together little gifts for the neighbors. But others we use to hold our gifts to each other. Of course, we're adults here, operating (I hope) on the honor system. If you pick up a tin to use, and there's something already in it, it goes back under the tree until Christmas. No peeking!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Homemade Dog and Cat Food

Over the last year or two, I have periodically made a few batches of homemade dog and cat food, but my husband and I have fallen back into our old habit of commercially prepared pet food. But since the year is coming to an end, I'm trying to decide what my New Year's resolution will be. Committing myself to preparing more homemade dog and cat food is one of the largest contenders.

I suppose I've been thinking so much about this lately because of my strange little kitten. A few weeks ago I had roasted up some winter squash that I grew, and my kitten went bonkers, begging for bites of it. And then, the other day I roasted up some sweet potatoes and was curious to find out if the cat likes sweet potatoes. Once again, the cat went nuts for it. He devoured it like it was a slab of juicy turkey (which I also fed him on Thanksgiving).

Anyway, this cat's strange food habits got me thinking once again about pet food and whether or not I should try to make more of an effort. There's many reasons that I think it is a good a idea, but here is a few thoughts for you to ponder:

Expense: Have you stopped to consider the price of dog and cat food recently? Sheesh! Bagged dog and cat food averages around $1.00/pound. And canned pet food is similarly priced, but the price includes the cost of watery gravy.

Waste: if your cat or dog eats mainly wet food, you know how quickly those cans pile up! 

Ingredients: In her book Food Pets Die For, Ann Martin exposes what the ingredients truly are in pet food. I'm not sure I want to go in detail here, but I will tell you that what she uncovered was pretty disgusting. You are welcome to check out my book review for more information. 

Preparing homemade pet food seems so daunting and obscure. But its really not that difficult. There's tons of recipes all over the internet, but I'm not much of a recipe follower.

According to the above-mentioned book, dog recipes should consist of roughly 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbohydrates (rice, oats, bread, beans, etc.), 1/3 fruits and vegetables (finely chopped or ground), and a tablespoon or so of oil each day. For cats, she says the general guide is 2/3 meat and 1/3 grain, vegetables, or fruit. She adds vitamin E and C, which you can purchase in pet supply stores and follow directions on the label (or consult her book). She grinds her food up so that the cats and dogs don't pick out the good parts and leave the rest. She also has many recipes in her book.

She did mention that some dogs do have allergies to eggs. I have read elsewhere that salmon is also allergenic to some dogs. 

This is a great time for me to prepare some homemade dog and cat food, as I have so many leftovers still from Thanksgiving. I'm just going to freeze extra portions to use for later dates.

So what do you think? Have you ever prepared your own pet food? Do you follow any strict recipes or do you just wing it?

By the way, I am giving away a copy of Michael Pollan's Food Rules on my blog. Stop by and leave me a comment for a chance to win a copy.