Fermentation class with Russell James and Amy Levin

The day after my raw chocolate course with Amy (https://hedgetables.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/raw-chocolate-course-with-amy-levin/) I had a class on fermentation. This was held in the same place; in the lovely, light filled kitchen cum studio of Russell James.

Now I’ve never had much luck with yeasts and fermenting – be that from a bread or alcohol producing point of view, but looking into the raw food phenomenon and it’s health benefits I was seeing articles on Kombuchu and Kefir all over the place. I’d had some difficulty in imagining the taste so it was hard to know if I wanted to make it. The course also encompassed lacto-fermentation. A lot of foragers know of this and it had also been highly recommended in various books as a method of preserving seasonal greens,lacto-fermentation is more commonly known as the method for producing Sauerkraut. So, definitely wanting to know about the Sauerkraut method and curious about a couple of other things that the course was offering, and not wanting to go to London for just one day, the decisions to go the fermentation class was a pretty easy one.

The day was started with James going into the benefits of making nut cheeses. Nut cheese I thought, I’d barely heard of them… wonderful things. Not as bland as I thought they’d be as nutritional yeast is added for flavour along with any spices, dried or fresh herb you want. They take only a couple of days to make – and that is due to overnight soaking first, then after blitzing in the, you guessed it – the Vitamix (getting one for sure! ), there is the process  of pressing the nut pulp to get excess water out; which takes several hours.

There is no waste – the water and ‘milk’ that is pressed out – effectively the curds and whey, is bulging with healthy bacterial cultures from the probiotic powder that was added to the nuts when they were blitzed in the blender. This curds and whey can be added to smoothies and drinks, or used to start another culture of cheese.

The almond cheese is particularly good, in that it can be aged to give a cheese that is genuinely tasty and can be cut like cheese, unlike the others, like macadamia, that make a soft cheese that is best made and eaten frequently.

The cheese can be used for sweet as well as savoury, as James proved with a wonderful, coffee, maple and vanilla almond nut cheesecake, needless to say it was deemed likely to get damaged in transit and had to be disposed of immediately :-), sorry HH – just have to make another one now…

Kimchi was not something I’d even heard of, but loved when I tasted it – a hot, tingly, zesty dush made from sturdy vegetables coming from Korea, so lots of chillis can be added.

We tackled the weird fungal bacterial hybrids that makes Kombuchu and Kefirs and got to sample lots. Amazing the differences that the second fermentation makes. You can add herbal and floral infusion, spices and all sorts here to make really flavourful, refreshing drinks.  We not only got to taste lots of variations but got to take samples of the cultures and ‘mothers’ home with us. Lots of practicing to be had…

IMG_3954  Kombuchu ‘scoby’ – the bacterial/ yeast symbiote floating in black tea and sugar mix to ‘feed’ it.

IMG_3957  the kefir grains that grow in water with sugar medium. They feel quite firm and gelatinous.

The lunch provided was flavourful and healthy. We were given a tasty raw salad and cumin-y dressing with a variety of the chutneys, cheeses, krauts and salsas that were also to make that day.

I left the class fizzing with kefir juices, excitement and new ideas. Thanks you James and Amy for an enlightening and tasty day.

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Raw Chocolate course with Amy Levin

Whew! just back from a great but intensive weekend in London.

I follow ‘Oosha’ ( ooosha.co.uk/‎) and had seen that they run courses as well as post good things about raw chocolate, so it was a no-brainer for me, I had to go.

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Going was the hard part. I’m reluctant to say ‘never’ ; as in “I’ll never do this again”- but I’ll have to (a) think long and hard, or (b)be desperate, or (c) have given enough time for me to forget the experience of going down via the night coach. The night coach has the appearance of being great value for money compared to the £250 quoted for the sleeper train, and when I heard it had actual beds not just recliners I thought “that’s the biz!” Hmm.

Several points to bear in mind – brush your teeth before you get on, – don’t go for a bottom bunk if you’re the slightest bit claustrophobic, go for a single bed side, not the double as you’re stuck there (unless on you’re on VERY good friends with the person on the aisle side), practise a very low limbo so you can get out from under the hammock above and above all leave something trailing that you can recognise by feel if you leave your coffin, sorry, bed, to go to the toilet, as you could get cosy getting back into a wrong bunk….

Let’s put it this way, after the course (finishing around 3.30-4) and realising I had 7 hrs to kill before bracing myself for the return trip on the night coach, it didn’t take  much persuasion after HH provided the information that there was a regular train leaving around 6pm from King’s Cross, to find myself reduced in cash but in a happier frame of mind and body and settled in a train carriage by 6.15!

Anyway, back to raw chocolate. I’ve had a couple of requests for them and after having tasted some wonderful spiced raw chocolate fudge that Alison Mountain had provided on the fabby textile courses over at Hat in the Cat and their Big Cat textile centre (textilecentre.co.uk  -go check them out if you’re at all creative, they host paper making, book making, dyeing, sewing, felting, painting etc classes with teachers that are excellent, from all over the world) I really wanted to try my hand at raw chocs. My attempts from books have been tasty but not entirely successful as I couldn’t get the textures and temper right for them.

Amy Levin of Oosha quickly sorted some of my issues out. Use powdered sweeteners such as xylitol, not the big crystal grains I’d used, or indeed the liquid sweeteners like Yacon syrup (doh! – fats and water don’t mix!) Use a Vitamix blender to do the powdering of ingredients prior to making the choc. Make choc in said Vitamix, temper in said Vitamix, note a theme here, guess what I’ll be getting soon 🙂             https://www.vitamix.co.uk/

We used silicon moulds mainly but Amy showed the class the polycarbonate ones that I’m used to using.

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Natural colours are used such as beetroot powder for reds and pinks, spirulina for green and Turmeric for yellow.

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While I’m used to using essential oils, we also used Medicine flower essences and extracts (http://www.medicineflower.com/flavorextracts.html) which were strong, fresh and zingy, and apart from the usual fruit flavours had coffee, caramel, butterscotch and other moreish flavours.

Textures were added with nuts – preferably soaked then dehydrated, this makes them more digestible and changes their consistency, dried fruits ( some of which can be soaked in alcohol then dehydrated – hmm, food for thought there!), buckwheat, all sorts really.

The finished chocolates had the snap of tempered chocolate on the outside which was great as I’d not got that before on my own. I’m still adjusting to raw chocolate as opposed to my usual ones, so I find the coconut oil that is often present leaves a different, lingering after feel in the mouth, though I could see that it was still be easy to infuse flower/ spice/ plant flavours in the coconut that would carry into the finished filled chocolate.

While there wasn’t as much hands on as I would like; this was understandable due to the expensive nature of the blender, and there was a wealth of information, a good handout backed up with the e book by email when I got back from the course and the invitation to join the facegroup page of people who have done the course this time and previously – which helps in troubleshooting and sharing information. All in all a good time was had – with the added bonus of taking chocs away for later!

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There is a nice wee park around the corner to walk in during lunch break; lunch was a wonderfully tasty raw salad with buckwheat crackers. The park hosted a windmill!

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