Posted in around the homestead, From the Kitchen

The Dairy Diaries – making cream, butter and cheese at home.

Home-made Dairy Products
Home-made Dairy Products

I’m never too sure when to expect our village milkman although I can be fairly certain that, regardless of what day it is, he will surely arrive just as we will have just put our dinner on plates. All hell will break loose with our (many) dogs going wild at the sight of his dogs and whilst we sort out change and return his milk containers the cats take advantage of the ensuing mayhem and make a bold effort to scoop whatever takes their fancy from our plates . It’s the same every week.

But all that aside the milk is delicious  and a far cry from the UHT stuff that is on offer in the village shop. At one Lev a liter the price is right too.

If we are unsure of what day he will arrive we are equally unsure as to what quantity of milk he will bring us. Sometimes it can be as much as ten liters, whereas on other days it may only be two or three. But even though ten liters is an awful lot of milk to deal with, I never say ‘no, its too much’ or he thinks I don’t want the milk at all – ever.

I have tried freezing milk but without a great deal of success. I find I still need to use it fairly quickly or it separates and regardless of how much the bottles are shaken the milk refuses to return to its former yumminess. If anyone has a solution to this problem please let me know!

Bu,t as is often the way, the problem of copious amounts of milk has turned out to be the ultimate solution to one of life’s other little hiccups here in Bulgaria. I wouldn’t say problem, because the difficulty in getting ahold of fresh cream can hardly be declared a ‘problem’, not in the scheme of things. Especially as there are perfectly acceptable substitutes. But the real deal… well, if you can get it, why not?

So, with the need to use up an excess of milk, my first adventure to be recorded in the Dairy Diaries was extracting the cream from the milk. It’s fair to say that this procedure is not rocket science. As we all know that lovely stuff naturally rises to the top of the milk  but to extract as much of it as possible, well there’s a bit of trick to it.

Skimming the Cream from Milk
Skimming the Cream from Milk

After experimenting with different containers I found plastic totes to be the perfect bit of kit. Along with an poached egg scooper to lift the cream from the milk.

The milk simply goes into the plastic tote and is put into the fridge for at least 24 hours (48 hrs or thereabouts is better). Then, with the poached egg scooper or other type of slotted spoon, peel back the cream from the milk. Let the thinner, creamy milk drain from the spoon back into the milk. And that’s all there is to it! Sweeten the cream (or not) and use as desired.

Of course we don’t scoff cream all the time but we do like to use butter. As it is one of the pricier items on the shopping list I thought I’d take a shot at making my own. My first  efforts were OK but the yield was a little low. However, like everything else, once you get the hang of it and know what to look for its a breeze.

Making Butter 

If you don’t have a lot of cream you can freeze it until you amass a reasonable amount but the cream skimmed from at least five liters of milk is worth whipping into butter. As I don’t have any special equipment making a large batch probably isn’t practical for me anyway.

I wish I had a stand mixer but my electric beater does the job. I make sure the cream comes straight from the fridge and beat it on the lowest setting until the cream starts to thicken. Then I turn it up a notch. Keep beating until the cream goes super thick after which the consistency starts to thin out again.

making butter at home
making butter at home

About that time you start to think something has gone horribly wrong – keep going! Little globules of butter will start to form around the edges of the bowl and you may feel the beaters start to ‘catch’ on something.  You are nearly there! Splashing a tiny bit of cold water into the bowl will speed up the process,  but don’t overdo it.

Eventually the buttermilk will start to separate out and the butter will start to look like, well, butter. Strain off the buttermilk to use in bread, muffins, scones etc.

Now is the time to add about another cup of cold water. Squish the butter around in the water to remove any butter milk that may still remain. I use a wooden spoon at first, draining off the liquid as I go. This, I don’t save. Lastly I run a stream of water into the bowl to ‘wash’ the butter, squeezing and draining as I go until the liquid runs clear. This is important as any remaining buttermilk can give the butter a rancid taste.

home made butter
home made butter

Press all the moisture from the butter with a wooden spoon, salt to taste and pack into a suitable container. Although it sounds like quite a production, in practice, its easy enough and the end product is high quality.

 

 

 

Making Ricotta

Home made Ricotta
Home made Ricotta

Lastly, from my milk cache, I make a batch of ricotta. I love ricotta for both sweet and savory dishes and I love it most of all because making it is as easy as falling off a log. Easier in fact.

I put two liters of milk (or multiples thereof) into a saucepan and heat it to 200 F, or until the milk is bubbly and steaming. Watch it carefully because in the blink of an eye it can rise up and make an awful mess all over your stove.

 

Making Ricotta - curds and whey
Making Ricotta – curds and whey

Take the pan off the heat and add two teaspoons of salt and 1/3 cup of lemon juice, stir gently and leave undisturbed for ten minutes or so. By then the curds should have separated from the whey but if the liquid till looks quite ‘milky’ carefully stir in a bit more lemon juice and leave another five minutes or so.

While you’re waiting, line a colander with muslin or cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.

 

Draining the Ricotta
Draining the Ricotta

Pour the contents of the pan into the colander, carefully though so that the hot whey doesn’t splash all over you. Leave to drain for twenty minutes and then check the consistency of the ricotta. If you would like firmer curds leave for a little longer. And that’s it! Add more salt if you need to, then pop your cheese into a suitable container.

The left over whey can be used to make bread, muffins and sturdy cakes or fed to the animals.

If you don’t have a village milk man you can certainly use store bought milk although I’m not sure if you would be making any great savings, it all depends on the price of the milk. Most importantly, whatever milk you choose it cannot be UHT, that simply will not work. It goes without saying that to make cream or butter you must use full fat milk, but if you want to have a go at making ricotta then skimmed is fine.

If you haven’t tried you hand at producing these added value dairy products I really do encourage you to have a go.

 

Posted in around the homestead

The Chicken Tractor

I haven’t had any chickens since I moved to Mogilino five years ago.  At first it was because all my barns and outbuilding were filled to the brim with ‘stuff’. A lot of good ‘stuff’ I might add and as it looked like it may well be useful in the future I was loath to just throw it all out. Good thinking as it turned out as much has been recycled in many and various ways.

However, just as we were beginning to see the light – and the floors – new four legged friends started to arrive in the village looking for a place to stay. Sound familiar?? Well, the upshot of it is, instead of chickens my outbuilding are now filled with dogs. Not that I’m at all unhappy with this as I love the little (and not so little) critters, but with the price of eggs on the rise, and as pretty much all of our baked goods are made from scratch we go through a fair few eggs in a week, I’m thinking once again about adding chickens to the homestead.

So, chicken housing has been on my mind. Housing and ways to coral them. I would love them to have total run of the place but the afore-mentioned four-legged family members would, in all likely-hood, reduce their numbers in short order.

Some years ago I looked into the possibility of chicken tractors (an unappealing name if ever I heard one) and I like the idea of being able to move the chickens around to fresh ground daily thus reducing bugs, keeping greenery down and fertilizing the ground all in one fell swoop. I’m sure its not quite as easy as that but the project sounds worth while and I think it will be one we tackle soon.

The design below is probably the simplest I’ve seen. It is quick to make and easy to store when not in use. I think it would be perfect to have to hand for a broody hen, a rampant rooster that is awaiting a new home perhaps or a chicken that is off colour and needs some alone time away from the rest of the flock.

The addition of a tarp or similar would be essential here in Bulgaria. Less for rain but very necessary to keep the birds shaded.

Easy To Make and Move Chicken Tractor
Collapsible Chicken Tractor

 

This is a much sturdier option and provides more shelter and shade. However, I think it would still be easy enough to move around the plot single handedly and doesn’t require a master carpenter to build it

Movable Chicken House and Run
Chicken Tractor

 

This design sits somewhere between the two. It appears to be lightweight and fairly simple to construct but with a bit more body to it. The addition of tarps to provide shelter from inclement weather and shade from the sun would be essential.

Chiccken Tractor made from PVC pipe
Hooped Chicken Tractor

Something of merit in all these designs, I think, and all would be easy to customise to one’s individual requirements. Check out your barns, there’s probably the makings of a one-of-a-kind chicken tractor lurking out there somewhere!

 

Posted in From the Kitchen

Everything Elderflower

The frothy white blossoms of the elderflower are, for me, the big thumbs up that summer is on its way. Along with the first cut of grass I don’t think there is a smell more evocative of warm sunny days than the somewhat elusive, and definitely distinctive, scent of the elderflower. This year the blousey flower heads are in abundance around the lanes of Mogilino and today I collected yet another batch. Already, I have my blossoms and lemon slices resting in a pan of simple syrup and tomorrow the resulting elixir will be strained into sterilised bottles – hey presto!, it really is as easy as that to produce a batch of Elderflower Cordial. A failure simply isn’t possible!

Of course there are many lovely things you can add to your pantry that begin with those very same ingredients and  Elderflower Champagne is on my list for tomorrow. Well, it wont be on the shelves tomorrow. It takes a few days of bubbling away before that delicate and most refreshing of summery brews will be ready to quaff, and really, if I’m honest, there’s not much chance it will spend long in the pantry anyway…

But back to the cordial. Yes, it makes the most wonderful drink, diluted with still or sparkling water or a splashed into a glass of white wine or Prosecco. I also I love it as a warm drink in the winter when its medicinal properties help chase away an impending cold. But don’t overlook the many other inventive ways it can be used! Here are six of my favourites to get you started.

Thorncroft Wild Elder Flower Cordial will do very nicely if you didn’t get around to making a batch for yourself this year! Make a note to yourself to check back later in the year to harvest the elderberries that will appear late summer to early fall, depending on where in the world you live. I will have some lovely ideas for ways in which you can use those too.

Elderflower Marshmallows.

Homemade Elderflower Marshmallows
Elderflower Marshmallows

A far cry from sickly, over-sweet, store bought creations, these delightful little puffs of yumminess are the very epitome of summer. Here is a recipe from Country Living that you might like to try.

Elderflower Marshmallows

Elderflower Panna Cotta.

Homemade Elderflower Panna Cotta
Elderflower Panna Cotta

Light and delicate, creamy and wobbly, this Panna Cotta is a lovely way to end a special meal. The following recipe is from River Cottage where they suggest you serve it with a Gooseberry coulis. I have to admit, Elderflowers and Gooseberries are a match made in heaven.
Elderflower Pannacotta

Fruit and Flower Elderflower Jellies.

Don’t be hemmed in by this particular recipe’s choice of fruit and flower petals – just be sure your flowers are edible! Or if you prefer leave out the flowers entirely. The resulting jellies are so pretty they are almost too beautiful to eat.
Elderflower Fruit and Flower Jellies

Elderflower Ice Lollies.

Homemade Elderflower Ice lollies
Elderflower Ice lollies

When the heat is on what is more refreshing than that blast from our childhood past, the Ice Lolly?! Well, here,courtesy of The Greedy Vegan, we have a very grown up version of that old friend. The addition of blossoms, thin slices of lemon, berries or perhaps sprigs of mint jazz the lollies up a bit if you want them for a special occasion.

Elderflower Ice Lollies

Raspberry and Elderflower Sorbet

Homemade Elderflower and Raspberry Sorbet
Elderflower and Raspberry Sorbet

A refreshing sorbet from Donna Hay that is a beautiful blushing pink in colour. Although it fairly screams ‘Summertime’, if you have raspberries in the freezer then it can be a very pleasant way to end a heavy winter meal.

Raspberry and Elderflower Sorbet

Sambocade

Sambocade - A Medieval Cheesecake
Sambocade – A Medieval Cheesecake

Sambocade is a real treat from the past – a medieval elderflower cheesecake made with ricotta and cottage cheese (or other curd cheese). A very nice baked cheesecake that we must thank Nutmegs Seven for bringing to our attention.
Sambocade

Posted in around the homestead, Gardening

A Beautiful, Mess(y) Garden

A Bulgarian Garden
In the Garden

Is your veg plot well under way? It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the garden goes from dirt to rampant growth. Although there is huge satisfaction to be had from growing a fair portion of our food,there comes a time when we need a beautiful space to relax in.

Hunkering down by the wood stove during the winter months is, without a doubt, the best way to relax when winter winds are nipping at fingers and toes, but now the coin has flipped who doesn’t want to be outside enjoying the beautiful Bulgarian weather?

So, how about some projects that beautify your outside living areas and at the same time make use of all those sticks and stones and pruning bits and bobs that may have accumulated when you were spring cleaning the garden?

Sounds like a multi win situation to me!

Tanya at Lovely Greens has come up with a real winner – using raspberry canes to  create a wattle weave edging for your flower or herb beds.

wattleweaveTake a look at her video tutorial Wattle Weave Edging

 

 

 

gardenmarkers

 

 

If you’re looking for a quick and easy project to get you started, how about these charming twig plant markers, courtesy of the original domestic goddess, Martha Stewart.

I just hope your potato peeler has more oomph than mine…

Here is a tutorial for the plant markers

Perhaps your garden could use more of a statement piece (or if you have a lot of sticks and twigs you need to dispose of).

A Twig Arbor
A Twig Arbor

If so you should  head over to Better Homes and Gardens and check out how to construct this fabulous arbor with designer Bim Willow.

I hope this has inspired you to create some rustic beauties for your garden – and if it all goes to pot, stash the evidence in the barn and when the days turn chilly use it to fire up the petchka!


	
Posted in around the homestead, Gardening

Armchair gardening

winter-33917_1280Today, the garden is under cover and, just as a sprinkling of Christmas decorations can hide the scars of on going renovations in the house, this festive mantle lifts the garden out of the doldrums.

2014 was not a good year for gardening in Bulgaria. Not that I have so much cause to complain, in fact I was extremely lucky and was spared the devastation suffered by others in certain parts of the country.

Certainly, there was an abundance of rain and a few savage storms descended on our village, doing a fair bit of damage to the plants etc., but in the scheme of things I count myself as being very lucky. Not to mention it made me appreciate my modest successes of the previous summer even more!

The seemingly never-ending rain and abundance of weeds that followed was wearing, to say the least, and after clearing the veg patch and replanting a couple of times I pretty much gave it up as a bad job. As a result the harvest was very small. The early peas and beans gave a good showing and a small patch of beetroot battled the weeds bravely. The garlic came on well, producing enough to see me through winter and the onions, although small, have been tasty and many were the perfect size for pickling. Just when I thought that was all I would harvest a forgotten row of carrots pushed on through as did the patch of leeks…all was not lost!

The fruit was another story. Neither the apples and plums nor the quinces put on any show – well, there were a very few plums. However, the raspberries, although not abundant, certainly made up for in taste what was lacking in quantity. The strawberry plants that were planted in spring simply disappeared.

The area immediately to the rear of my house gets the sun for most of the day, becoming almost unbearably hot in the height of summer. However, years ago previous owners had many grape vines and even now a few descendants are valiantly hanging on, trying to regrow, so it seemed sensible to have a pergola built to support them and (hopefully) make for myself a pleasant, shady spot to work (or pretend to work) outside. This summer the vines grew away beautifully and although the early promise of a few grapes was dashed by a particularly fierce hail storm, the vines themselves hung on tenaciously and prospered. With a bit of luck this summer I will have my outdoor office with perhaps the added bonus of some fruit as well.

Although my 2014 garden was a far cry from the bountiful and beautiful fruit, flower and veg filled secret gardens nestled on the other side of my neighbour’s walls there is always hope that I will catch up to them this summer.

 

The Cookbook

Mogilino House in Winter
Mogilino in Winter

I arrived in Mogilino at the end of March 2013 and, so far, living here has been a wonderful experience. Sure enough the language is a challenge and having English speaking neighbours that so kindly come to my rescue when I run into problems has made me very lazy in coming to grips with Bulgarian (but I WILL make a serious effort over the winter!).

There is one thing that I do struggle with however and that is the plight of some of the animals, dogs and cats in particular. Unsurprisingly a few of the homeless are now keeping me company. There are amazing people all over the country doing wonderful work but, as well as a huge commitment of time, it takes money. Food, housing, vet bills, rehoming costs…it’s a bottomless pit.

So, as I’m nearing the completion of my current writing project I’ve decided to try to raise a bit of money to help with those never-ending costs. However, I figure it wouldn’t hurt to do something nice for ourselves too! With that in mind the first of the fundraising projects is a cookbook featuring favourite recipes, those you find yourself reaching for the most, since coming to Bulgaria. I’m hoping some of you will help the cause by submitting some of your best loved recipes too.

I’m particularly looking for typically Bulgarian dishes; recipes from home (wherever home for you might have originally been); perhaps recipes you’ve developed to make old favourites that are hard to find or expensive here; recipes that make use of the wonderful local produce.

If you would like to include a short intro telling us a bit about the dish – or yourself –  that would be great, but if you’re shy it is by no means mandatory.

All profits from the book will be donated to help animals in need in Bulgaria.

 

If you would like to submit a recipe please email it to:

Botb@gmail.com In the subject line please put “recipe submission”

Or if you prefer, use the form below.

 that would be great

Personally, I love cookbooks so this is one project I am really looking forward to!