Category Archives: Food

Apple Vinegar – Started So Well, Ended So Badly

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This bubbling jar of fruit, sugar, bacteria, and yeast was my first experimental batch of homemade vinegar. It turned out beautifully. Slightly alcoholic, but beautiful. I learned from a friend that if I let the vinegar sit past its alcoholic stage it would become a full fledged vinegar and not just a vinegary beverage that gives you a buzz.

2010-01-01 00.00.00-33The process was simple enough, I added slices of apple to a jar of water with a little bit of extra sugar, covered it with a coffee filter and rubber band, and ignored it. Well, I checked on it almost obsessively to see if it had grown a SCOBY yet. After about a month of anxious peeking and occasional mold skimming, my SCOBY was there! It had grown! I had ‘made’ it happen!

2010-01-01 00.00.00-15Delighted with this success, I scaled up. Mistake #1 – a ceramic crock that wasn’t meant for fermentation. This mistake went unnoticed for a good while, but was the real cause of this experiments demise. I started this batch with a little of the original vinegar, a peeled off layer of the original SCOBY, sliced apples, and sugar. It quickly grew a 1/4″ thick SCOBY and smelled fantastic. The jar had a snuggly fitting lid (Mistake #2 – nothing except saran wrap or a coffee filter is snug enough to keep fruit flies out) so I covered it, and really did ignore it this time.

After a month, I noticed that the area around the crock was smelling a little mildewy. Mistake #3 – never ignore a weird smell around anything, ANYTHING, you’re fermenting. No excuses.

Another month – I pulled the lid off the crock and out flew a thick mass of fruit flies. The apple slices were mostly white with maggots, and the walls and underside of the lid were crusted with pupae. Another thing – the level of the vinegar had dropped by a few inches in the jar. Flies, leakage, and mold-from-leakage meant that I dumped this whole mess into the compost and will start again. I’m not at all discouraged by this failure because it is clear that every mistake made was due to my own ignorance/laziness and not at all to the actual difficulty of making vinegar. I was just a little too confident a little too fast and lost what could have been 3 gallons of delicious apple vinegar to my vinegar-hubris.

Basil Marinated Cauliflower

2010-01-01 00.00.00-30The clearance rack at the grocery store is one of my favorite places. I know I’ve talked about this .49/lb rack-of-glory, but it never ceases to amaze me.  Sure, I could go dumpster dive most of this produce later that night for free, but honestly, I don’t have time. .49/lb is a good enough bargain for me. This head of cauliflower was chilling there the other day so I thought it would be a great opportunity to test out a  basil marinated recipe before the big heads were ready in the fields (although I have since learned that we won’t be planting any because they ‘are a pain in the ass’). Canning and drying are the main way I justify buying my produce in nearly-rotten-bulk. It gets eaten that night and what isn’t eaten is pickled, dehydrated, and frozen. This means that I when I decide to check out the clearance section I am committing the rest of my evening to being in the kitchen – not a bad thing at all.

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Basil Marinated Cauliflower
One head makes about 4 16 oz jars, give or take (I reuse jars and tend to be inconsistent with the jar sizes I use per batch so the measurements are more of an estimate)

1 Head Cauliflower – cut into florets, washed and drained thoroughly
1/4 c White Wine Vinegar
1/4 c Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 c Water
1/2 T Pickling Salt
1 t Dijon Mustard
1 Red Shallot – finely minced. (I used 3 scallions, because they were readily available from the farm)
1 Garlic Clove – finely minced
1/2 c Basil leaves – rinsed and cut into strips
1 T Whole Black Peppercorns

Lightly blanch the florets and then let sit in a cold water bath while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Whisk together the vinegars, water, salt, and mustard in a small cook pot. Bring to a low simmer and add the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes. Remove the brine from the heat and add in the basil.

Drain the cauliflower well and pack the florets into jars, leaving 1″ of head space per jar. Divide the peppercorns evenly among the jars and toss in. I like to do this after I’ve added the veggies to my jars just in case I come up short on veggies and have prepped too many jars.

Pour the brine into each jar until it covers the cauliflower. At this point you can screw on the lids and set the jars in fridge overnight and serve as a salad the next day or you can process the cauliflower in a hot water bath for 10 minutes and enjoy as a pickled cauliflower later on in the season.

Ol’ Reliable Pickled Radishes

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What would a spring harvest be without a surplus of radishes? Actually, I imagine there are very mixed responses, depending on who you’re talking to (the ones harvesting vs. the ones eating). Despite developing a good litany of curses every time I kneeled into wet grass to bundle another 96 bunches of radishes, I do still love them. Whether sliced thinly on toast with olive oil, salt, and dill, or roasted with last fall’s beets and carrots, this little root is definitely something I rely on. As many cooks before me already know, they make damn fine pickles.

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This recipe is definitely one of the most reliable. It has many close relatives in the cooking world and is certainly nothing new or innovative. The only thing I like to do is carve a few whole radishes to look like jack-o-lanterns and have a jar of spooky radish heads once October rolls around.

Ol’ Reliable Pickled Radishes
Makes about 3 quarts.

12 Radishes
1/2 t Yellow Mustard Seeds
1/4 t Coriander Seeds
1 T Black Peppercorns
1 Garlic Clove – finely minced
1/2 c Cider Vinegar
1/4 c Brown Sugar
1 c Water
1 T Kosher Salt (The ratio here, if you run short of brine, is 1 heaping T of salt to 1 c of Water)

Wash the radishes thoroughly and slice into 1/4″ – 1/8″ slices, depending on your preference. Set slices in a bowl with ice to keep them crisp while prepping the spices and brine.

Mix the spices and garlic together in a bowl, distribute evenly among the jars you have prepared (hot water bath for sterilizing, ya’ know). In a sauce pan, mix brown sugar, water, vinegar, and salt together. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. It is important to not let this boil too rapidly or for too long because you will loose a lot of your liquid to evaporation and your brine will be thrown out of whack.

Pack the jars with the sliced radishes, leaving an inch of head space at the top of each jar. Top off each jar with the just-boiled brine, raising the content level to about 1/2″ of headspace.

Clean the mouths of the jars, screw on the lids, and process in a hot water bath for about 10 minutes. The pickles can be stored in the fridge or in a dark place while they ferment and should be ready to snack on in 1-2 weeks.

The pickles are good eaten on their own, they are also good on toast with olive oil and dill (no salt this time!), and are great in stir fries.

Strawberry Rhubarb Balsamic Jam

ImageI understand that this post is a little bit behind peak strawberry season, but I’m putting it up anyways, in the hopes that some of you have a few pounds of strawberries you stashed in your freezers just waiting for that perfect jam recipe to come around.

ImageA friend of mine gave me the last few stalks from her rhubarb bush a week before the strawberries were really in full swing, so I stashed them in a glass of water in the fridge and crossed my fingers that they’d still be intact when the time came. Except for the ends curling up, they were basically perfect.

For this particular batch I had a few slightly bruised apples that needed tending, so I threw them in with the rhubarb and strawberries. I think it made the jam a little bit thicker and a little lighter than without, so it may become a regular feature. Lemme’ know what you think if you get to experimenting.

Strawberry Rhubarb Balsamic Jam

Made 2 1/12 lbs of jam – with this method the total jam equals out to the same weight of fruit used. I’ll include the ratios so you can sub in other kinds of fruit – I’ve been using red plums and strawberries and have my eyes on a pineapple variation.

1 1/2 lb Strawberries – washed and quartered with the greens removed
1/2 lb Rhubarb – cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 lb of Apples – I used Gala because they were what I had on hand, peeled and cut into chunks.
2 cups Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Honey
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar

Toss the fruit with the sugar and honey and let sit, covered, in a nonreactive bowl for about 30 minutes. Macerating the fruit like this seems to help the jam cook down a little bit faster. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen so I try to figure out ways to make my cooking process more efficient without loosing any flavor or food-integrity.

Scrape the fruit/sugar/juice mixture into a deep but wide sauce pan – the wider the base the faster the jam will cook down. Add in the honey and the balsamic vinegar – bring the mix to a low simmer and stir (continuously is great but unnecessary, so long as you don’t let any of it stick to the bottom and burn) until the fruit has mostly broken down into indistinct pieces.

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I always like to use the immersion blender at this point and blast the jam to make a smoother spread – I feel like it disperse the flavors more evenly and I have a more consistent product. I’m also weird about chunky textures. This cooking down process should take about 30 minutes, but to be sure, take a small spoon full of jam and dab it onto a plate. Tilt the plate to its side, if the jam runs, it isn’t ready, but if it stays in place, it is ready to jar or freeze or eat all at once.

ImageI like to put mine in sterilized 16 oz jars, leaving about 1/2″ of headspace, and process in a hot water bath for about 15 minutes. It usually gets eaten well before it would go bad without any canning, but we eat a lot of toast around here.

The basic ratio to remember is 1 lb of sugar and 1/8 cup of balsamic vinegar to 1lb of fruit. So far this ratio has worked out pretty well with other types of fruit.

Banana Sandwich Bread

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Peanut butter, honey, banana sandwiches – one of the greatest sandwich creations to ever grace a lunchbox. Bananas have always been low on my grocery list for a number of reasons spanning from price to ethics to I just don’t really like them when they’re not in bread or cookie form. Lately though, the grocery store around the corner has regularly had them on the clearance rack for a grand .49 cents a pound (.69 cents a pound when they’re organic). So hello, banana bread. More specifically, banana sandwich bread. All you have to do is make a peanut butter and honey sandwich and it’s delicious! No bananas to slice or turn brown or have a weird mushy texture (I know, I’m weird. I hate mushy texture…). Instead, you have four loaves of golden brown lofty bread that smells amazing.

Banana Sandwich Bread (4 loaves – very easily frozen or divided down)

8 bananas
1 c cane sugar or 1/2 c honey
4T olive oil
4 eggs
4 T yeast
5 1/2 c unbleached flour
1 c wheat germ
4 T cinnamon
1 T salt
2 T mace

Mash the bananas together with the sugar (or honey), stir in the yeast, olive oil, eggs, cinnamon, mace, and wheat germ and let sit for about an hour.

After an hour of bubbling away, gently stir in the salt. Then begin adding the flour and kneading as you go. You’ll knead for about 10 minutes until the dough gets to a good smooth consistency, only slightly sticky. If you need to add a T of flour or a T of water to get the dough there, then go ahead, but make sure you wait until after you’ve been kneading it for awhile because I promise the consistency changes drastically through the kneading process.

Let the dough rest in an oiled bowl, covered in a clean damp dish towel. It will rise for about an
hour, or until doubled in size.

After it has doubled, punch down the dough and knead for about 5 minutes. Divide the dough into four balls and shape into loaves. I like to make sure that my dough seam is on the bottom where it will rest in the pan – purely aesthetic. Let this rest for about 30 minutes, giving you time to preheat the oven to 325 F. Pop them in the oven for about an hour – check the loaves for doneness by thumping on the top, if they sound hollow they are ready to pull out. I will sometimes start the oven at a higher temperature, say 350 F and then lower it to 325 F halfway through – I get a more substantial crust without burning the bread.

Then there you have it, delicious banana sandwich bread. Slice a piece, pop it in the toaster, then drown it in honey and peanut butter and don’t tell me it isn’t the best thing you’ve ever eaten.

I Like It Sour

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For no particular reason other than curiosity and a predilection for foods with a tang, I have jumped head first into fermentation and all of its associated cooking practices.

ImageThe CSA my house subscribes to (and whose farm I work at) usually provides a few heads of cabbage and some daikon and green radishes in our share so we have been making kimchi and sauerkraut. Both have turned out delicious, maybe a little too spicy for the kimchi. I always add more pepper than most people like. This kimchi is also vegan and soy free. My various allergies kind of mandate this. I’m sure kimchi purists would have me call it something else – ‘No fish sauce? No soy sauce? Not kimchi!’, but whatever we decide to call it, it is good.

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There are currently 3 gallons of kombucha bubbling away, 1 of which we are experimenting fermenting with honey instead of cane sugar. So far it looks alright and seems healthy. I’ve been using the kombucha for everything from sourdough starter to ketchup (and to drink!). So far the ketchup has been my favorite.

The Kombucha Ketchup Recipe

12 oz tomato paste
1 cup kombucha (+/- depending on the consistency you want for your ketchup) – the longer the ferment the better
3 T balsamic vinegar
2 T honey
1 T garlic powder
2 t mace
1 t allspice
dash of salt and black pepper

Mix the ingredients together in a jar and let sit at room temperature for up to 3 days, then refrigerate. The ketchup is good to eat immediately but definitely develops a fuller flavor over the fermentation period.

Sauerkraut – Most Basic of Basics

2 heads of cabbage (I used Nappa cabbage because it is what I had on hand) uniformly shredded
3 T pickling salt
1 quart jar – sterilized by boiling
Something to smash with  – I like using a wooden pestle

Put the shredded cabbage into a large bowl and sprinkle the pickling salt on top. It is important to use pickling salt because it doesn’t have anything added to it that may have an adverse affect on the fermentation process. Toss the cabbage and the salt together to try and make the salt evenly distributed. Let this sit for about 2 hours – the cabbage should have reduced in volume by releasing a lot of water. Now is the time to bang away a the cabbage/watery/salt mush with your pestle or smashing-tool of choice. Really, don’t hold back. After getting your frustrations out on the cabbage, transfer it to a jar – liquid and all. You will need to really pack it in – this is why I like the pestle, it is good for smashing and for packing. When packing the cabbage into the jar, make sure that the brine (salty cabbage water) covers the top of the shredded cabbage in the jar. Tightly seal the jar and set on a plate (the jars will seep and leak during the fermentation process so it’s smart to have something underneath them that can be easily cleaned). After about 2 weeks you can begin sampling and the sauerkraut can be moved to the fridge. If the sauerkraut is too salty, rinse it off a little before you eat it. I like to use mine in a sauerkraut chocolate cake recipe (I’ll tell you about it later).

Spicy Vegan Soy-Free Kimchi(for 2 quarts)
1/8 lb ginger – peeled and sliced into matchsticks
2 dried chilis – crushed into a powder (seeds, skins, no stem)
1 T cane sugar
2 T sea salt – divided (1 T, 1 T)
2 T filtered water
1 Large head Nappa cabbage – cut into 2″ chunks
3/4 lbs carrots (3-4 good size carrots) peeled and cut into 1/4″x2″ sticks
3/4 lbs green or daikon radishes (I used green radishes and was very pleased with the results, daikon are the traditional and easier to find radish of choice) cut into 1/4″x2″ sticks
4-5 heads garlic (HEADS, not cloves) – peeled and chopped

In a food processor, buzz the chilis, ginger, sugar, salt, and about 2 T water until a smooth paste forms.
In a large mixing bowl – cover the cabbage with warm (not hot) water. Stir in the other T of sea salt until it has dissolved. Allow the mixture to rest for about 30 minutes, then drain it and pat it dry.
Return the cabbage to the large mixing bowl and add the carrots, diakon, and garlic. Mix in the chili-ginger paste until all of the ingredients are evenly coated.
Transfer the mixture to a quart glass jar that has been sterilized, one cup at a time. It is important to mash the mixture down to get the vegetables to release their juices. Pack the veggies in until there is about 1 inch of head space left in the jar and the veggies are covered entirely with brine. Weight the veggies down with a crock weight (they sell glass weights that fit into both regular and wide mouth mason jars) or a well sterilized stone (a smooth stone that has been boiled for an hour will work just fine). Set these on a plate in a dark, well ventilated space and let sit for about one week. Transfer to the fridge afterwards. This kimchi is great in soups and in a savory pancake (another recipe I’ll share with you later).

I am always eager to hear about more fermentation experiments to try out – what is your favorite recipe? What has been your biggest fermentation disaster? I feel like these are two of the most important topics to share – lots of learning what to do and what not to do.

Eggs are dairy

Today at work while discussing my new dairy allergy (oh yeah, I’m allergic to dairy now. What’s up with that?) with a coworker, another individual joined in our conversation and informed us that eggs are dairy. I was so thrown off by this that I googled this misconception once I got home – LOTS OF PEOPLE THINK THIS! How far removed do people have to be from their food source to genuinely believe that eggs are a dairy product? I even explained that eggs come from chicken’s behinds and milk comes from the mammary glands of mammals. Still, ‘Eggs are dairy! that’s why vegans can’t eat them!’ Another coworker informed me that eggs are listed under dairy for school nutrition. Does anyone know if this is true? Are we further confusing the youngsters we are supposed to be educating?