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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ginger Ale and Root Beer - Getting Down with Fermentation

 Rooty toot toot and ginger yum yum!

You know, I really have been making jam. Lots of it. It's just that, after several cycles through the seasons, I've figured out some of my favorites and I just keep making them. There is far less experimentation on the jamming front and a lot more in other areas. For example, I've been having a great time in my garden. I really have a crush on my garden. I love it. I bring it presents. I talk about it obsessively. I talk to it and its members. (Mostly when I'm alone.) Here's a picture of my little paradise. Not so much food, but lots of herbs and flowers and flying visitors. The view from the chairs is better than the view of the chairs. Just know, it's marvelous.


So between jamming and getting dirty, I have been thinking about fermenting. Controlled spoilage is one of the most genius things that human beings do. I have come into several very large crocks, and I harbor ideas of making sour kraut and curing olives, but I decided to start small, with sodas. I like a bubbly sweet drink now and then. And, I do like to add a splash of homemade syrups to soda water. But then I found out that I could drink a pro-biotic rich bubbly drink that was not kombucha. (I do not like kombucha. I know the world does. Not me. It tastes like socks.) These fermented sodas are just so right for me!

Ginger, my bug.

Rather than tell you the whole business of making a ginger bug and brewing the ginger ale, I will refer you to Wellness Mama. Katie is a wealth of knowledge about good, healthy, for real food. I hope you visit her site, because it is inspirational and I want to give credit where credit is due. I pretty much followed her steps to create the ginger bug. It is equal parts fresh, grated ginger and pure cane sugar, mixed with pure water in a very clean jar. Much like sourdough, you feed it periodically until it gets bubbly. I love it when things come ALIVE! Also like sourdough, you can keep it alive.

First stage of soda fizzilation.

I will share with you my root beer, because it is a recipe that can be personalized for your tastes and the availability of roots and herbs in your area. I'm already dreaming of all the other flavors that can be brewed this way. Once the ginger bug is good and fizzy, you brew a strong tea, using the flavors you prefer. (The ginger ale starts as a strong ginger tea.) Once the tea is cooled to room temp, you add the ginger bug and a few extra goodies, put it in a couple of jars with tight fitting lids and let it sit. It bears watching. I left mine in the big jars for about a week. I then, filtered it and bottled in these sturdy models, designed for home brewing.

I buy mine by the case and they come with Grolsch-style swing caps.

 Gettin' Fizzy wid it. Fo' shizzle.


 They have been sitting at room temp for another week and are just right. I'm putting them in the fridge today, because I'm going on vacation and don't want them to get explodey. 

So far, 4 out of 4 tasters think this root beer is amazing.

Root Beer
3 quarts pure water
1/4 cup dried Sarsaparilla root
1/4 cup dried Sassafras
1 tsp.dried licorice root
1 tsp. dried peppermint (winter green is traditional, but I could not find it locally)
1 stick cinnamon
1 allspice berry
1 cardamom pod (bashed)

Bring the water to a boil and add the spices. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temp. Strain and add the following:

2 tbsp. molasses
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup lime juice
3/4 cup ginger bug

Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bottle in two quart-sized mason jars. They need not be sterile, but should be very clean and do use new lids. Allow to sit until bubbly - up to a week, unless it is very warm. Strain through a fine sieve and bottle in very clean bottles. (You can use coffee filters or cheese cloth for more clarity.) Allow to sit at room temp for about a week. Store in the fridge once desired fizziness is reached. 

I found that the two quart jars filled 3 of my brew bottles, with a little left over. 

Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Plum, Nectarine and Vanilla Bean Jam


Sometimes the best jams are not preplanned, but come about by happy accident. I don't mean that you walk into a kitchen, knock over your fruit bowl and say, "Whoa! I made jam!" I mean, you're going... The water bath is boiling. You're already sweaty as all get out and you have just a few cups of pulp left. What's it good for anyway? So, you scout the kitchen for anything to fill out that batch. I'm apt to go for canned crushed pineapple. On this occasion, no pineapple was to be found. However, I did find three big, ripe nectarines. Chop, mix with plum pulp, smell and taste. Throw in half a juicy vanilla bean for good measure. And voila - flavor magic. The rest is easy. Follow the directions on the Pink package and you have some jam that is (as Paula says) fair worthy.


Have fun. Try new flavors. Your toast will be very happy you did. 

Plum, Nectarine and Vanilla Bean Jam
3 large, ripe nectarines, removed from pit and chopped and mashed a bit
Enough plum pulp to equal 6 1/2 cups total fruit
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 package Sure Jell pectin in the Pink box

Prepare a boiling water bath. Wash and sterilize 8 half-pint jars. Place rings and lids in warm water. 
Add the fruit to a large, heavy bottom stock pot. Mix 1/4 cup of the measured sugar with the pectin packet and whisk this into the fruit mixture. Bring to a boil. Once a full rolling boil has been reached, boil for exactly one minute and remove from heat. Skim the foam. Ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with lids and rings. Tighten lightly with finger tips. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove and place on a towel lined tray. Allow to stand overnight before wiping and labeling. 

Makes 8 half-pint jars.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Small Batch Pectin Booster


Oy! It's June in California, soon to be July. Things have been coming into season, hot and heavy, since April. I've put up over 50 jars of jam in the last two weeks. Sometimes it feels like a long haul, but I feel so happy when I put those shiny jars in the basement. Next month it will be Christmas in July. Yeah. That's how I roll.


My stock of apple pectin from Bill's tree did not make it through this canning season, so I've been picking up apples and making small batches as needed. This works well and is less of a production than the big batch. If you are new to jam making and you want guaranteed success, use packaged pectin and follow the directions exactly. You will not be sorry. Works every time. But, if you have oddball amounts of fruit, not being married to the recipe is great. I have worked out a basic formula that is fairly reliable. If it comes out a little soft - Oh well. Pancake syrup!


So, here's the formula. One cup sugar per pound of prepared fruit, plus up to an additional cup of sugar, to taste. Add lemon juice. Usually, 1/4 cup per 3 pounds fruit. More to taste. If the fruit is high in pectin, such as blueberries or blackberries, you don't need to add pectin at all. If it is a low-pectin fruit, such as strawberries or peaches, add about 2/3 cup of this concentrated pectin for 3 pounds of fruit. Cook until it reaches a soft gel stage.


I've said it before and I'll say it again. I like a soft set. Please don't consider your jam a failure if it is a little soft. It will still be delicious. One of the reasons my jam is soft is that I use much less sugar than traditional jams, which used to be almost equal parts fruit and sugar. I really like it less sweet. That is why, when I do use commercial pectin, I use the pink stuff.


Here are a couple of examples of the two types of pectin. On the left, is plum and pineapple jam, made with commercial pectin. On the right is strawberry jam made with this pectin booster. For that recipe, I used 3 pounds prepared strawberries, 3 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2/3 cup of this pectin. It mounds up a bit, but is really more like preserves - fruit suspended in a thick syrup. But, it still stays on your toast.

Small Batch Pectin Booster
4 granny smith apples
1 lemon
10 cups water

Wash and quarter the apples. Do not peel or core. Wash and slice the lemon into 1/4 inch slices. Add the fruit to a large stock pot and add 10 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a brisk simmer and allow to simmer for about 1 hour. The apples will kind of explode out of their skins and the liquid will begin to get a little thick. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Let stand to drain for at least an hour. Place the remaining liquid in a smaller sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until it is reduced by half. You should end up with 2 to 3 cups. Store in the fridge for up to one week or freeze for later use. Like my larger batch of pectin, I tend to use about 2/3 cup per 3 to 4 pounds of fruit.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Random Food Fridays - Roxie Ribs Beans



I grew up eating beans and cornbread. My father was born in Oklahoma and traveled across the country to California when he was 2 years old. His parents had been farmers, but when the war started Pappy went to the ship yards in Richmond. He went on his own and Grammy, one of her friends and their children came by car with all their worldly goods. I learned a lot from my Grammy's cooking style. I also spent a lot of time in their garden. I still dream about being in my grandparents garden. Like many people who have relocated, they grew the traditional foods they could not buy at a store. The okra flowers were beautiful, like yellow and maroon hibiscus. Fried okra, black eyed peas, musk mellon and all kinds of peppers were grown each summer. Their apricot tree was like a candy tree to me.


All of this is why beans are my ultimate comfort food. There are some tricks to making them good and digestible that are well worth learning. Dry beans are not a fast food. But, neither are they as hard as folks seem to think. It's weird to think that cooking an important staple food has become such a mystery in three generations.

Here are the bean rules:
1. Sort and wash. You do not want to bite a bean-shaped stone.
2. Soak. Overnight, or longer,  in cold water. Or, alternately, start with the beans in plenty of cold water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and let stand for one hour.
3. Drain and rinse. This removes many of the components that cause gas.
4. Cook to desired tenderness without salt or acid. These inhibit the absorption of water by the beans.
5. To further reduce gas, simmer with a piece of kombu. This is a type of seaweed.
6. To complete the protein, serve with grains of some sort.
7. The more you eat beans, the more your digestive system with adjust.
8. Beano works!


What makes these beans so flavorful is the use of smoked pork ribs. We have a little deli, called Roxie, a block from our house. They have a big smoker out in front and Wednesday is rib day. So good! We usually get a full rack and eat them for a couple of days, then I make beans with the few remaining ribs. If you are in the Sacramento area, do stop by Roxie. They make awesome sandwiches too.

Roxie Rib Beans
2 cups pinto beans
Water
5-6 meaty, smoked pork ribs
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp. chipotle in adobo sauce, chopped or mashed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can or jar of diced tomatoes
1/4 cup molasses
2 tsp. salt

Sort and rinse the beans. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water by at least two inches. Place in fridge and allow to soak over night. You can also do a quick soak by placing the cleaned beans into a large pot. Cover with cold water by at least two inches. Bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour.

When ready to cook, drain the soaking water and place the beans in a large pot and add 4 quarts of water and the ribs. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover with the lid ajar. Cook the beans at a slow simmer until tender and the meat is falling from the bones. Remove the ribs bones and tear the meat off with a fork. Return the meat to the pot. Add the onion, chipotle, garlic and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, until the beans are very soft and the broth has thickened. Add the salt and taste.

This makes a big pot of beans. Serve with cornbread. I had mine with crackers today. (Too hot to bake in June!) Enjoy!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Random Food Fridays - Soba Slaw

Another beautiful salad for a hot, late Spring day. I know that I post a lot of soups and salads and there is a reason for that - endless variety! And, eat more fruits and veg, yo! Every season offers new freshness to try.
I recently started using Soba noodles. I thought they were gluten free, but many are not. If you are going gluten free, be sure to check the labels. The primary ingredient for Soba is buckwheat. Sometimes they also have yams or soy flour too. They cook up in about 3 minutes. You really have to watch that they don't over cook! If you use them in a salad or plan to add them to a stir fry, undercook them a bit. They have a slightly nutty flavor and hold their shape well. I understand that I haven't even eaten them in the traditional way yet. Usually they are either served cold, with a dipping sauce and toppings. Or, they can be served with a hot broth and toppings. So far, I've used them in salad, stir fries and even with spaghetti sauce. I did pick up some Soba sauce at our local Japanese grocery on my last visit.
For this salad, I used a T-style peeler to shred the carrots and cucumber into long "noodles". There are a number of products you can use to get the same result. But, if you want to use your regular grater, you will still have a delicious, if slightly less stylish, salad. I can't over emphasize the importance of fresh herbs here. You can use any, but I went with a classic South East Asian combo of mint, Thai basil and cilantro. Because I often eat salads for lunch, I like to add a protein to keep me going through the afternoon. Raw cashews are a perfect match for this salad. They add a sweet richness to this fresh and crunchy dish.

I hope that you will give any of my salads a try. More, I hope you will buy some weird thing you've never eaten before and concoct your own magic salads!

Soba Slaw
5 medium carrots, scrubbed and shredded into long pieces
1 English or Japanese cucumber, with peel, washed and shredded to the seed part
1 Cup shredded purple cabbage
1 packet Soba noodles, cooked per package instructions and immediately rinsed in cold water
Big handful of fresh herbs - 1/3 each mint, Thai basil and cilantro - chop larger leaves
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
Raw cashews for serving

Sweet Chili Dressing
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup Mai Ploy sweet chili sauce
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice vinegar

Toss all salad ingredients together, except for the cashews. Combine all the dressing ingredients and toss with the salad. Serve with cashews and additional fresh herbs. Stores well in the fridge. Makes 6 servings.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Random Food Fridays - Green Lentil Salad


Here I am. Life is very lively right now. In the last several weeks, we've been in two car accidents, (we're fine), lost a cousin and a beloved aunt to cancer, worried a bunch about my mom, who fell twice and had a we had a major sea change in our jobs, including a relocation. I'm pooped! On one level, I feel just fine. Most of these worrisome things are not within my control. A very talented healer once told me that our only responsibility is to respond. I've responded, and fairly gracefully too. However, it all takes a toll and my body has been at a high level of edginess for a while. I'm grateful to say that I have had some time for self-care. I've prioritized feeling well over doing well. Yay me!


I've been learning about herbs that help with stress hormones and help the body flush toxins. I got a rebounder so I can get bouncy when the invisible tiger is trying to eat me. I have been preparing a week's worth of healthy lunches on weekends. One such lunch item is this lentil salad. I also took some to a pot luck and it was well received.


This is my first try at using lentils for salad instead of soup. It turned out super yummy, but I could have cooked them a little less. I advise you to gently simmer them for 15 minutes after reaching a boil. I simmered them for 20 minutes and many of them broke open. Still yummy, but not shiny like the lentil salads I've had in restaurants. Beans are a standby for my lunchtime fare. They are full of fiber, minerals, protein and staying power. Most beans take several hours to cook properly. Quick cooking is what makes these little lentils great!

Green Lentil Salad
2 cups dry green lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 small shallot, diced
1 cup diced English cucumber (or other thin-skinned cucumber)
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 rib celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tbsp. bottled tapenade (I one that combined green olives and artichoke hearts)
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
Avocado
Toasted pepitas
Lettuce

Dressing (recipe follows)

Place the lentils in a sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce to low heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Once lentils are cool enough, toss with the veggies and tapenade, except for the lettuce, avocado and pepitas. Toss in about the half the dressing into the salad. Taste for seasoning. You may want to add a little more dressing at serving time.

Serve over lettuce and garnished with avocado and pepitas.

Lemon and White Wine Vinaigrette
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup chardonay vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. grainy mustard
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Add all ingredients to a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake like crazy.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Random Food Fridays - Mo' Betta Cheesecake


My dear friend, Miss Paula is just one of many friends with a gluten sensitivity. I'm not sure why this happens to so many people these days, but it seems to be a cold, hard fact. I want my treats to be yummy and to make my friends feel happy without feeling yucky. Because of this, I'm always on the look out for  good and real food gluten free recipes. I found the inspiration for this one on Pinterest. It is from a blog called Honey and Figs. Consuelo calls them Clean Eating Strawberry Cheesecake Bars. She even suggest them for a yummy and healthy breakfast. I followed her methods, for the most part, but used what I had on hand and also had to fill in some of the blanks. For example, she doesn't tell us what size pan to use and many of the measurements and ingredients are European, as she lives in Spain. One of the great things about being comfortable in the kitchen is taking an inspiration and going forward with your own knowledge and ingredients. Please check out Consuelo's lovely blog and try either version of this luscious treat.

Mo' Betta Cheesecake
13 medjool dates and water to cover
1 1/2 cups Nature's Path Pumpkin Flax Plus Granola
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 carton of low-fat cottage cheese, 16 oz.
8 oz. reduced fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
1/4 cup raw honey, warmed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin and 5 tbsp. water, divided

Start by preparing the crust. Place the dates in a bowl of warm water and let them soak for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, you can get everything into place. Line the bottom of an 8 X 8 inch pan with parchment paper, leaving the parchment out on two sides to form a handle to lift the cheesecake out when it is set.

Pit the dates and place them in a food processor with a bit of the soaking water. Pulse until they start to break down. Add the granola and cashews and pulse until well combined and the pieces are pretty small. With the food processor running, drizzle in the melted coconut oil. When the dough begins to form a ball, it is done. Oil your hands with a bit of the coconut oil and move the dough into the bottom of the paper-lined dish. Press the dough out to a uniform thickness. Set aside.

Place 3 tbsp. of cold water in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the gelatin and allow to soften. Start the kettle.

For the filling, place the cottage cheese and cream cheese in the (washed out) food processor bowl and pulse until smooth. add the vanilla and warmed honey by drizzling it in while the motor is running. (I found that when I added room temp honey, the processor blades launched the mass at the inner edge of the bowl, where it stuck like glue.) Add 2 tbsp. boiling water to the softened gelatin and stir until very smooth. Blend the gelatin mixture into the cheese mixture until all is uniformly smooth. Scoop the filling out onto the prepared crust. Smooth, cover and refrigerate 4 hours or over night.

To serve, use the paper to lift the cheesecake out of the pan and place it on a flat serving dish. Cut into squares. Conseulo said her's made 12 servings. That is a bit unrealistic in my world. I got 9 squares out of mine. Serve topped with fresh or preserved fruit.