There’s been a word or two in my ear that I may be presenting myself as nothing more than a meat-and-sugar eating beast on these cooking posts and that I’ve been neglecting my veggies. And it’s simply not true. Between the early morning offal fry-ups and the late night crème caramel indulgences, I cook and eat all sorts of things….
Poached eggs on toasted aniseed sourdough with fresh goat cheese and tamarillo relish.
I love having the wood stove going all day. It makes preparing a quick brunch for myself so easy. I simply shuffle the iron kettles off the hot and ready stovetop and throw on a few slices of sourdough from yesterday’s bake. Pour boiling water from one of the kettles into a small saucepan. Add a squeeze of bush lemon juice. Crack in a couple of perfect eggs from our chickens – so fresh they’re still warm. Place my plate on the wood stove next to the toast and simmering eggs, let the plate get warm while I go fetch the cheese and relish….
I’m excited as I go fetch these things because these things – the cheese and the relish, like the eggs and the water and the wood that fires the wood stove – all come from the land we’re on. It feels good to be cooking like this. It’s not tearing intensively-raised pig loins out of a plastic bag or opening up yet another box of monotonous-looking, bland-tasting, chemical-soaked, nutrient-poor fennel bulbs or tomatoes. There’s no calling suppliers here and no wondering where your ingredients actually come from or calculating the food miles. It’s all out there in the garden and the food forests and the pastures and the river and the dams that surround you. Zero miles. Every thinking cook’s dream – a kitchen in the middle of a beautiful garden… excellent produce growing in abundance all around you… everything you need right on your doorstep… as fresh as fresh gets… ingredients full of intense flavour and life… And then there’s the goat cheese….
I love goat cheese. And all I have to do to get it is save the goat milk for a couple of days. Our resident goat girl – Amber – supplied the kitchen with 4.6ltrs of milk over two days of milking our pretty goat- Yoni. Nice one Amber, and thanks for helping me make the cheese. This is what we did….
Put the raw goat’s milk on a low heat and when it comes up to blood temperature you drop in a tiny bit of rennet. Originally, rennet was made by taking the stomach of a young goat and filling it with salt, then hanging it by a fireplace for a month to cure. I’ve read that shepherds used to carry a piece of stinky rennet around their neck, in a pouch made from the scrotum of a goat. You don’t have to go that far. You can curdle milk with lemon juice or vinegar or even a fig branch (in the summer when the sap is flowing). But rennet works best.
We used commercially bought vegetarian rennet. It works really well and lasts forever. I put a tiny drop of it into the blood warm milk as Amber stirred it gently with a slotted spoon for a minute or two. Then we left it for an hour or so to let the curd set. All you have to do at this point is run your knife through the curd to cut it up into chunks that are scooped out and placed into a colander lined with clean cheesecloth. (The liquid that drains out is the whey. Keep this and use it to make bread or porridge or pancakes, etc.)
Now you can wrap the curd in the cheesecloth and weigh it down to press out more liquid (leaving you with a firmer cheese) or you can tie the cheesecloth into a pouch-like bag and hang it overnight for a softer cheese. The next morning you open up the cheese cloth and you get the freshest goat cheese you’ll ever eat. It’s a fantastic event every time.
For the tamarillo relish, I harvested from the food forests and gardens around me – tamarillos, galangal, lemongrass, turmeric, tomatoes and chili. I chopped all this up and threw it into a pan with some red onion and garlic and lots of oil. Play around with spices. Think fennel, coriander and cumin seed. Think ginger and cinnamon. Think salt, pepper, brown sugar, vinegar. Think sweet and sour. Think rich and lush and when you’re done, dollop it on everything from cheese sandwiches and pies to grilled fish and roasted potatoes. This relish adds excitement to everything it comes into contact with.
Some of the students caught some eel and left the slippery things gutted and washed for me in the fridge. I grab a cleaver and go Vietnamese-style with them in the caramelized fashion so suited to cooking eel.… but I’ve told you about this recipe already and we’re here for the veggies.
So, let me tell you that I also served wedges of pumpkin from the garden, roasted with cinnamon and coriander, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and drizzled with honey. Yum. And how about a colourful yakon salad to freshen things up a bit? I layered the thin slices of this crispy sweet root with shredded purple cabbage and a dressing I made by taking dried black fungus and re-hydrating it in green tea, then tossing it with garlic and ginger in a fry pan, before finishing it off with grated palm sugar and lots of bush lemon juice. It went down well.
For dinner, I had planned on doing a repeat of a fried potato and roasted cauliflower salad with bits of broccolini flecked through with slivers of pistachio, wilted spinach, tamarillo segments, coriander leaf tips and all that hard work, serving it with some sort of rich tagine-like chickpea stew and maybe some fried aniseed bread and yoghurt mint dip… but I decided against such a culinary mission in favour of cooking a quick roasted sweet potato soup, serving it with freshly baked goat whey and polenta sourdough. I wanted to clear out the harvested stock from the outdoor pantry and also give myself an easy day. It meant I could have a siesta in my hammock after lunch and watch the bees go about their business amongst the flowers. I wonder if they enjoy their work as much as I do.