Our Robert Burns Dinner

This past weekend, my sister and I did our 2nd Burns dinner. The last one was 2 years ago, held on the 25th of January. This year its on the 19th – close enough, and means that my sister can do it in the course of the weekend – she is travelling from away.

For those of you who do not know, Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland. His ability to discern the true nature of both man and beast in a few powerful words is unsurpassed. A few years after his death his friends got together and held a commemorative dinner for him. Apparently little has changed in over 200 years. We still have a long way to go before we get anywhere close to making it truly traditional – this was the second time we have done this, and it will only get better. I’d say we have the food part down pretty well — next are the various toasts, poems and words of great and small wisdom to be shared.

My greatest pleasure in this is cooking with my sister. We’ve both developed into pretty decent cooks, and we rarely get a chance to play together in the kitchen sandbox. There’s so much shared and deep memory there, and we get along wonderfully well in the kitchen. Doing it over the day also means we aren’t scrambling around like we are in some kind of hell’s kitchen – its very relaxed with lots of time for catching up and looking ahead.

First of all, the whole menu

Hors d’oeuvres:

  • Homemade oatcakes
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Red pepper jelly
  • Cut vegs

Soup:

  • Cock a Leekie soup
  • Homemade sourdough

Fish course

  • Salmon on a bed of warmed grain barley salad
  • Maple baked brussel sprouts
  • Braised carrot and cabbage

Haggis course

  • Haggis
  • Neeps (turnips – what North Americans call rutabaga)
  • Tatties (mashed potatoes)

Dessert

  • Cranachan

ALL the recipes

Hors d’oeuvres:

Homemade oatcakes

For this I used my sourdough cracker recipe. I let the dough rise for a few hours, cut them thick, and got a little rise out of them. For the flour, I used 50g oats, 100g oat flour and 100g red fife flour. If following the recipe, I used 15% oil and 4% salt. They were baked at convection 375F//190C for 25 minutes. Its important that the oatcakes are crisp, otherwise mold will eventually set in.

Cheddar cheese

For this I sought out sharp cheeses from Britain – no Scottish ones available as well as an Ontario cheese, Bush Garden (near the cottage area my sister and I grew up with in our formative and not so formative years)

Red pepper jelly

Clearly I did not make this today. It was one of my preserving activities from the past year.

ingredients

500 ml apple cider vinegar 500g
500 ml white vinegar 500g
1kg brown sugar this can be adjusted upwards according to your taste and daring
1 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp coriander (do SEEDS< not powder)
4 tsp chillies/hot pickled peppers/cayenne to taste for hotness
1kg BBQ’d red peppers (coated in oil with salt pepper, oregano. Thyme, basil, cumin when they are bbq’d) (need to verify what the dry weight of these would be. )
Your preferred thickening. I used 8 tbs agar agar (9g/litre) but pectin works well.

Method

  1. Cut peppers into large chunks for bbq
  2. Coat peppers in olive oil, coat in herb mixture (Basil/thyme/oregano/salt/pepper) and bbq
  3. Once cooked, jullienne the bbq’d peppers to the desired size for the jelly
    boil 6 250 ml jars; put lids in colander to boil also.
  4. Combine cider, vinegar, sugar, spices (add hot ingredients to taste
    bring liquid mix to a boil. Adjust seasonings to taste
  5. remove jars from hot water (or oven if you use this method)
    distribute peppers into jars
  6. Add pectin and proceed as you normally do for a waterbathed preserve
  7. Boil jars for 10 minutes

Soup: Cock a Leekie

Observing my sis prepare this, I am considering that my approach to chicken may be too narrow. After all my usual MO is to strip the meat from the bone, and then soup what is left. K ‘s usual approach is to take a whole small chicken and boil it,peeling away the meat and skin after.

Ingredients

Chicken parts – bone in – or a small chicken
2 large leeks
1 large carrot
2 c barley
2 L or more chicken stock (Water will work if you do not have stock).

2-3 bay leaf
1/4 tsp peppercorns
salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Boil the chicken with peppercorns and bay leaf at a bare simmer for about 2 hours, covered
  2. Prepare leeks: prepare, wash and cut them. Keep in mind that cutting across the grain will give a different ultimate texture than cutting long slices.
  3. Cut carrots – either diced, rounds or julienned. Again keep in mind the impact of on the final texture
  4. Strain the soup, and pull away all the meat, leaving bone and skin behind.
  5. Pour the broth in a large pot, add the chicken, leeks, carrots and barley
  6. Simmer for a further hour or until the barley is cooked.
  7. Taste for salt and pepper.

Homemade sourdough

This time I made an 800g batard of my usual sourdough, but in a nod to the occasion, used barley, rye, and oat flakes on the outside. It took approximately 40 minutes at 440F/226C. It used 50% all purpose flour and 50% red fife at 66% hydration. The starter and dough were begun the day before, and refrigerated. The final proofing was begun early in the morning it was baked, in the fridge.

Fish course: Salmon on a bed of warmed barley salad

For our dinner, I bought a ginormous salmon fillet. In retrospect, half of it would have been fine. (I have a feeling I’m going to be making some mayo and a salmon pate in the near future.) This way to do a baked fish is quite amazing in its simplicity, and works fabulously for a delicious fish that wants its true nature to shine through.


Salmon

Ingredients

1 salmon (or trout, whitefish, what have you… ) filet
olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Optional – lemon slices

Instructions

  1. heat oven to 400F/200C and put in a cookie tray sufficient to hold the salmon.
  2. liberally brush olive oil on both sides of salmon

  1. sprinkle salt and pepper over salmon – to your own judgement!
  2. When the oven has reached temperature, remove the cookie tray, and slide the salmon onto it. The immediate contact with the hot tray helps to cook and caramelize the skin. Optionally you may want to place lemon slices on top. You may also wish to insert a meat thermometer in it.
  3. Place the salmon in the oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 325F/165C.
  4. How long it takes will depend on the size of the salmon. For our huge one, it as 20 minutes. After that it was not quite done. I inserted a meat thermometer in the thickest part and took it out at 140F/60C – about 5 minutes more.
    Next time, I would grease the tray before putting the salmon on.

Warmed barley salad

This became the bed for the salmon to lie on. I love making these warmed grain dishes. There’s so much variety: different kinds and combinations of grains, different additions, and of course the wide variety of oils and vinegars to finish them off with. Since this was about Robbie Burns and Scotland, we went with barley. There was a slight straying from the Scottish land in the additions – notably the cranberries. I did resist the temptation to use pomegranate seeds.

Ingredients

1 cup whole barley
3 cups water
pinch of salt
1/2 granny smith apple
80g coarsely diced red onion
1/.2 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme

Instructions

  1. Cook the barley – add a pinch of salt to the water, and cook until done – about 40 minutes
  2. While it is cooking, assemble the other ingredients. The apple and onions should be diced to about the same size as the cranberries
  3. When the barley is cooked, add the cranberries, onion apple, and herbs.
  4. Add a little olive oil to give it a hint of being a salad. Optionally you may want to add a few splashes of a fruit vinegar.
  5. Taste for salt, pepper, and general tweaks (more of this or that….)

Roasted maple brussel sprouts

This was one of the vegetable accompaniments to our 2019 Robbie Burns dinner, at one end of the salmon dish. This is one of these really easy, yet so wonderful dishes. I should say that the preparation is easy: the tricky part is cooking them just right. They can’t be burned, but a high heat is needed to develop the caremalization. Watch them carefully. The maple syrup is definitely a Canadian addition – perhaps next year I can try honey.

Ingredients

Brussel sprouts
salt
pepper
maple syrup
olive or sunflower oil

Instructions

  1. Turn oven to 400F/200C
  2. Weigh the brussel sprouts and add 1.5% of their weight in salt. Add pepper as you judge appropriate
  3. Drizzle with both olive oil and maple syrup until they are well coated
  4. Place in a covered dish and cook for about 20 minutes before checking them.
    The time will vary with a number of factors including the size of the sprouts, the shape of the container (a cookie tray will cook them faster than if they are in a glass bowl), and the quantity of sprouts. You want to have them cook until they are nicely browned, but not at all burnt. They should be very soft and sweet.

Braised cabbage and carrot

This dish or its variants is something I do a lot. Quantities and variants can easily vary, but not the process. Braising is not something the Scots have typically done back in the day. Boiling was the usual M.O. I find that a long slow braise – with just enough water to help the dish develop its own liquid – carmelizes root vegetables wonderfully, bringing out their own quite intense sweetness.

Ingredients

  • various root vegetables, including cabbage too.
  • 1 large onion
  • 1-2 heads of garlic
  • Herbs – your choice.

Instructions

  1. Cut onions in thin slices
  2. Gently sautee onions in oil or butter with a little salt. You an play with the oil selection butter, olive, or coconut oil will all give a pleasing result.
  3. While the onions are cooking, peel and cut root vegetables into thin, but still chunky slices.
  4. The onions should be well on their way to being caramelized (but not burnt! – about 20-30 minutes), before adding the root vegetables, and garlic. Do not stir yet, but a little water can help at this point. There should be a few cm’s of liquid around the onions. White wine is also an interesting alternative.
  5. Taste and consider herbs and spices to use. Some possibilities include thyme, rosemary, nutmeg, sage, oregano, basil
  6. Gently simmer, covered for 45 – 60 minutes. They should come out well cooked, sweet and soft.

Haggis course

Last year I did a blog about how to make haggis, the centrepiece of a Burns dinner, and when I took a look at it this year, I felt it had worked out really well insofar as it gave clear directions as to what to do. I strongly encourage everyone to try your own DIY haggis. Even if you can only get liver and heart, this will give you something very close.

I’m convinced very few people make it these days, even in butcher shops. This year, I was able to use the pluck I had obtained last year from Dejong Farms. This was a good thing as a few weeks ago, I was informed she did not have any for this year. I said that next time a sheep goes in, could she please reserve the pluck (liver, heart, lungs) for me. Hopefully I’ll be good for next year. After all, all sheep have these organs.

One huge difference this year is my learning about how to cook it. Scott Rea did an excellent haggis tutorial in which he uses beef bung as the sleeve, and cooks it sous vide at 180F/82C for 4 hours or so. This is important because when you boil it, the beef or pig skin breaks apart. At sous vide temperatures, it stays together. Of course back in the day, there was no such thing as sous vide, or meat thermometers. There was however, sheep stomachs available, and people would heat their houses in the middle of the winter on a wood or coal stove, so it didn’t matter much.

It took a lot of patience and time to get the synthetic sausage skins seen here. Following the sous vide method, I’ve been trying to find beef bung – but no one seems to have it. This would be truly good to have, as when one stabs the haggis, it will open perfectly.

Serving the haggis

This is the part where I know I need to improve on. Typically the haggis is piped in – an ostentatious display of Scottishness- and presented on the table. At that point an appointed host must read the Toast to the Haggis, while holding a sharp knife at the ready to give it its first cut.

Our preparations this year

Here is the haggis once the oats, ground meat and fat have been added. Next is stuffing it in the skins, which were big enough to do manually. We only needed about half of it – which is fine. A haggis breakfast of fried haggis, eggs and potatoes is a most excellent start to a cold winter morning.

This is the haggis in the sous vide. The little balls act as a lid to help keep the temperature up. Notice the black wire – leading to the meat thermometer telling us that the water temperature was 20F lower than the Anova readout! After our dinner I made small sausages out of some of what remained above using a 7L pot and a collander. Our range held them perfectly at 180F/82C on its lowest setting – without burst skins. As for the Anova, I want to see what happens at lower sous vide temperatures.

 

Neeps (turnips – what North Americans call rutabaga – or yellow turnip is what is required here.

The turnips are braised in the same way as the braised root vegetables described above. Onions are optional, but leave out the garlic. The turnip should be cut into thin wedges to maximize the surface area being cooked. A little salt will go well, but otherwise don’t use any other spices. The oil used in the braise can vary – butter, sunflower or olive are all good choices. A little liquid may be needed – there needs to be a couple of cm’s on the bottom.

Tatties (mashed potatoes)

Mashed potatoes are the other compulsory vegetable to serve alongside haggis. I boil my potatoes whole in their jackets, because in this way the water tends to stay out of the flesh. This is important as one wants to hydrate them at the mashing stage with milk, not potato water.

Once you can stick a knife easily ot the middle they are ready. If the skin has begun to separate from the potato they are also definitely ready. Let them cool a little, and remove the skins. Add butter – about 100g depending on the quantity – and milk. Pour in the milk a little at a time, while mashing them until they have reached the desired consistency. Add salt to taste.

 

Dessert – Cranachan

This recipe comes from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/4298800/Burns-Night-Cranachan-recipe.html (This one is interesting too as it covers some other recipes in this blog)

Ingredients (6 servings)

  • 110g/4oz rolled oats or pinhead oatmeal
  • 280ml/ 10 oz double cream (whipping cream if you are in Canada)
  • 300g/11oz crowdie, or quark. We used creme fraiche. LIke crowdie, it is a fermented milk product. Unlike corwdie which is soured and slightly fermented curdled milk, creme fraiche is cultured cream. In our case it was 50:50 yogurt and whipping cream, left to culture at room temperature for about 8 hours.
  • 6 tbs honey
  • 5 tbs scotch
  • 1 bag (280 g) frozen raspberries, thawed
  • ½ pint fresh raspberries

Below is your mise en scene for 2 servings.

Instructions

  1. Toast the oats in a large frying pan over a medium heat, stirring constantly until they turn brown and smell toasty. Near the end you may wish to throw on ½ tsp of sugar. Allow to cool.
  2. Lightly whip the cream and mix it with the creme fraiche.
  3. Stir in 4tbs honey and 5 tbs whisky
  4. Layer cream, oats, raspberries, in 6 glasses (we used champagne flutes), finishing with a dribble of honey and a few raspberries.

Eat immediately or refrigerate

A couple of notes:

There are a few other – predictably British versions of Cranachan

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/648633/cranachan

https://www.christinascucina.com/cranachan-lovely-scottish-dessert/

https://www.bbc.com/food/recipes/cranachan_66101

The most thorough one is here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/13/how-to-make-perfect-cranachan-scottish-dessert-recipe. It compares several of the cranachan recipes and shows the variability.

I’m interested in exploring the idea of toasted candied oats. What’s called for here are pinhead or steel cut oats – what you get when you pass row oats through a steel mill on a very course chop. I’d be interested to experiment with oat, barley or rye flakes. I’m also wondering about using malted beer flavoring grains and toasting them.

I felt the thawed frozen raspberries were too liquidy to work with, as was the champagne flute idea. I’m thinking they will present a lot better if we use raspberry jam (my slightly tart homemade kind, not the sickly sweet commercial stuff) in combination with the frozen raspberries.

To serve, I’m thinking small white wine glasses. Changing the glasses and frozen berries for jam should help the layering should go smoother.

creme fraiche
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sour cream
whisk cream and sour cream in a bowl. Cover loosely and let stand in a warm spot overnight or until thickened – 12-24 hours
cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. The tartness will continue to develop.

Enjoy your Robbie Burns Day dinner!

I hope you will have a chance to see this before your Robbie Burns dinner. I know I’m a little near the time for anyone who has been long planning this event, especially concerning the haggis cooking. But hopefully you will take away some ideas. I’d love to hear your ideas too!

What did you do for your Burns Supper?

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Beer BBQ sauce

I’ve enjoyed making my own condiments, and many of these have been blogged about. I’ve tried my own BBQ sauces on a number of occasions, usually the result of playing with the braise a meat has been slowly cooking away in. One of my favorite vehicles for this is Gordon Ramsay’s BBQ Spare ribs recipe in his World Kitchen book (ISBN-10 55470-199-6) – page 243. It involves a LOT of sauce, and wonderfully complex flavors.

We (my son and I) decided to do ribs for dinner but we did have different approaches to it. He wanted to wrap them up in tin foil and bake them – more or less in their own juices – slowly for a number of hours, then finish them on the BBQ. I had more or less an opposite approach – the Ramsay big liquid braise. We did a combination of both. I pointed out that there was an oven conflict: I needed to bake bread and squash – and suggested using a crock pot.

We cut the ribs into portion sizes – 3-4 bones a serving. The ribs were also briefly cured: 1.5% salt (weigh the ribs, use 1.5% of the weight as your salt and sugar quantities), sugar, pepper, cloves. They went in the crock-pot at 250F/120C with a good amount of the braising liquid on the bottom and slathered on top. After 90 minutes, they were definitely done. Until they went on the BBQ they were kept warm in the braise at about 150F/65C.

But its all about the sauce as far as I was concerned. I wanted a supply of amazing home-made BBQ sauce, but I also wanted to play with it – notably I had a failed stout a while ago and am always looking for ways to use it in cooking. Off course when you add beer to something like this in significant proportions, it does tend to change everything. It definitely did so here – so much so that the Ramsay recipe became a launching point for a new recipe.

Here’s Ramsay’s recipe first:

Ingredients
2 litres water
2 tbsp tomato paste1½ medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
3/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
5 whole cloves
2 dried red chillis
6 racks (approx. 550g each) of pork spareribs (each 18-20cm long, 6 ribs per rack)
For the barbecue glaze
4 tbsp dark molasses
2 onion, finely chopped

4 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp English mustard
2 tbsp cider vinegar

A few dashes of tabasco

Juice of 1 lemon
Method
1. In a large saucepan add the water, tomato paste, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and chilli. Bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 15 minutes.
2. Add the ribs making sure they are covered (if not add more water) and bring back up to a gentle simmer. Simmer for approx 45 minutes, adding more water if it reduces too much. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile place 300ml of the liquid from the ribs in a small saucepan. Boil the liquid until reduced by half. Add the molasses, chopped onion mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, lemon and salt. Stir over the heat to combine thoroughly. Brush this mixture liberally over the blanched ribs.
4. Cook the ribs on a barbecue or grill for approximately 1-2 minutes each side until well coloured.
©Gordon Ramsay 200[8]. All rights reserved

After considerable tasting and adding and generally having fun experimenting using his recipe as a base, here is what I came up with:

Home Cook Explorer’s Beer BBq Sauce

Ingredients

1st set – the braising liquid

  • 1L stout or ale (if you have a choice, use a less hoppy brew)
  • 500ml soup stock
  • 300ml tomato sauce
  • 200 ml tomato paste
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves, mashed
  • 3/4 tsp peppercorns
  • 1/8 tsp – a pinch – red chili flakes
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 100 ml maple syrup
  • 50-100ml honey, to taste – according to the hoppiness of the beer.
  • 1-2 tsp salt – but add to taste

—————————————

2nd set

  • 60 ml molasses
  • 100g honey
  • 30 g English mustard
  • 1 lemon
  • Worcestershire sauce – to taste – about 100ml

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan add the beer, tomato sauce, soup stock, 100ml honey, 2 tbsp sugar, 100ml maple syrup, salt, tomato paste, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and chilli.
  2. Taste – particularly for salt and sweetness. The more hoppy your beer is the more it needs to be countered by sugar and salt. It should taste adequately salty, and slightly sweet.
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 15 minutes.
  4. At this point in the process this can be used as a braising liquid for your ribs or whatever you are BBQing.The meat should be held at 185F/85C for about 90 minutes. This could be in the oven (set to about 225F/107C), a crock pot with temperature control, stovetop (suggest using a pot in boiling water and a thermostat) or sous vide cooker
  5. Add all remaining ingredients (molasses, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, remaining honey, mustard.)
  6. Bring to a boil for several minutes, then using an immersion blender, thoroughly puree the sauce.
  7. Taste for saltiness, sweetness and acidity. Start with salt: it should not have a distinct salty taste – but the salt should enhance the inevitable complexity. There are 3 types of sugar in it already, so if it needs more, add whatever feels good in the moment – a little at a time. Finally, there should be sufficient acid tang from the tomatoes, beer, and lemon. If more is required, try a splash of balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar until it feels right.
  8. Return to a boil and reduce for about 10 minutes, stirring often to ensure it does not stick. It should become thick.
  9. Take off the boil and serve or can it.
  10. If canning, follow your usual water bath protocols. In 250ml containers it should be boiled (assuming sauce is already north of 150F/65C) for about 10-12 minutes. This quantity will make between 1-1.5L depending on the amount of reduction.

Some final thoughts….

Well that was fun. I hardly expected it would evolve this way. Previously I had thought that the braising process was absolutely integral to the making of the sauce. It arguably is, as in the braising, the fat is rendered into the sauce, and contributes its own fullness, complexity and wonderful flavour. Because of the boiling and pureeing, the fat is fully emulsified into the sauce, and so you won’t get a fat layer on top.

The pureeing process is different than what Ramsay describes. His instructions are to strain the braising liquid. I did try that with a cup of it, and thought to myself, “this looks like wonderfully tasty stuff in the strainer, and the liquid left over looks pretty thin.” So back into the sauce it went, and out came the immersion blender. It should be noted that his purpose in doing this was to get a smooth glaze, and not to make bbq sauce.

My son made an interesting comment when tasting it. He is a BBQ sauce aficionado, but relies on commercial stuff. He noted that it is much more complex, and also less sweet. He said that it really needs to go on the meat for its complexity to shine through. The commercial sauces are apparently so sweet they can be eaten on their own. I’ll have to take his word on that. The complexity is clear: the molasses, maple syrup, cloves, beer malts, hops and tomato are all strong tastes on their own.

The other interesting learning here is that there are multiple ways to prepare ribs. The keys to it are flavoring – the cure or braise the meat is in before and during cooking – and the temperature/how long. It needs to be beyond 180F/82C for the meat to soften and detach from the bone, but it can’t cook too long or else you have pulled pork. Please see Stefan’s excellent blogs covering these issues. And https://stefangourmet.com/2018/04/01/how-to-choose-time-and-temperature-to-cook-meat-sous-vide/

Next Steps

Since this was definitely experimental, the quantities here are more suggested than firm. Next time I feel the BBQ sauce urge, I’ll start by replicating this, and see what tweaks are needed, and record the results. I’m reasonably confident that it will work well and be replicable as is.  These quantities yielded about 2L of sauce. Perhaps if you try this you can comment on what modifications you made to it.

Shortbread

A little background on this

Full disclosure. I’m Scottish, and grew up there for most of my childhood. Consequently there are some foods that are part of who I am, even if I only eat them a couple of times a year. Shortbread is one of them. One of my favorite taste memories is dipping fresh shortbread into custard and letting it all melt slowly in my mouth.

But I’m not talking of your usual christmas shortbread cookies all bejewelled in frosting and seasonal decorations, sweet and buttery beyond imagination, and almost crumbly to the touch.

No. The shortbread I grew up with is almost peasant like. Hard, but breakable, it will melt in your mouth, gently releasing its essential yet understated buttery bomb.

Until a few years ago, I had not been successful at copying what I remember of my grandmother and father’s magical creations. Too hard, not the right texture – not the right taste. I was told it was all in the kneading. There was too little, too much. Somehow I was not nailing it.

The investigation

A decade ago when I visited my parents, I was shown a slim and decaying cookbook: Reliable Cookery by Mrs. Lawrie (I kid you not. We shall never know Mrs. Lawrie’s first name!) This cookbook according to my dad, was published in the early 1900’s and functioned as a home economic textbook for ALL Scottish girls. (Think of the implications: it defines Scottish cuisine of that generation.) It was extremely practical,providing essential kitchen directions for future scullery maids and housewives, and simple recipes intended to provide an essential baseline of cooking expertise. I’ve uploaded and am sharing it here. I wonder what she would have thought of her modest book being shared in this way.

A little after this, I purchased Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty – an amazing book that shows how far we have all come in both embracing tried and true classical culinary techniques with a bold and new imagination. Along with Ratio, it is an essential cookbook by one of America’s most influential culinary teachers.

I then set about to figure out the definitive shortbread recipe. My usual M.O. when I set out to figure out a recipe is to research. I usually start with the print resources I have at hand. In this case I decided to look at the pdf printout I had made of Reliable Cookery and my two versions of the Joy of Cooking- 1949 and 1997.

The JOC versions seemed to me to be fairly typical butter cookies: 100% wheat flour, and also baking soda and vanilla (1949 edition). The 1997 version was more back to basics, with butter, flour, and sugar. Cream the butter and sugar, add in flour, roll out, cut, bake. Reliable Cookery differed in one important element, one I remembered from childhood: it included rice flour. (Strange, isn’t it. Rice is not a Scottish staple. Why would there be rice flour? And no explanation either.) In this recipe, the dry ingredients (including the sugar) are mixed, the butter is creamed, then they are combined, kneaded, rolled out and cut.

I decided to go with this latter recipe as I reasoned it would be the closest to what my Gran had made eons ago. Here it is. The ratio is something to take note of: 1 part each sugar and rice flour, 2 parts butter, 4 parts flour.

6oz. flour (188g)

2oz rice flour (62g)

4 oz butter (125g)

2oz sugar (62g)

Pinch of salt

  1. Mix dry ingredients
  2. Add butter and work in
  3. Roll out
  4. Bake in a ‘moderate’ oven for 1 hour.

Here is how it appears in the book.

With these quantities and process, it did not ‘roll out’ – it was rather a ‘press into the pan’ job. No surprise. After all there is no water to get the gluten going – indeed there are gluten inhibitors. I took the moderate oven to mean 325-375F. In initial experiments I used 375F (175C) following the JOC and watched it carefully but ultimately I prefer 350F.

As it was cooking, I decided to thumb through Ruhlman’s Twenty – looking for new ideas and new things to try. Lo and behold, there it was, his take on Scottish Shortbread. This was definitely interesting- especially as he noted it was a recipe that had come down through the family of a Scottish friend. No doubt a shared ancestry leading back to Mrs. Lawrie’s tome. http://ruhlman.com/2010/03/scottish-shortbread/

http://lethallydelicious.blogspot.ca/2010/06/scottish-shortbread.html

This recipe has a considerably higher ratio of sugar and butter, and uses a lower gluten cake flour. I appreciated the explanation about the gluten: that the unique crumb is achieved through lower gluten. His solution is the cake flour. Mrs. Lawrie’s was to cut in the rice flour.

My final go-to shortbread recipe

There was however a missing element in all of these recipes. The problem with shortbread is how to keep it firm, and not crumble away. You also want it to easily break apart in neat rectangles, approximately ¾” (2cm) in height. The fork pricks are important to release water vapour. The thickness too is important for the integrity of the biscuit. The key is the thorough and even compacting of the dough. If it is at all loose, it will crumble. Here is the solution, and my current recipe, somewhat modified from Mrs. Lawrie but with metric weights and a lot more specificity that should assure success:

Ingredients

180g flour
60g rice flour
125g unsalted butter
65g sugar

Equipment

  • Mixing bowl
  • Weigh scale
  • Parchment paper
  • Empty 500ml salsa or round mason jar
  • 6”x8”/15x20cm (@ 50”2 /125cm2 ) baking dish for this recipe amount. This will yield shortbread that is an ideal thickness – about ¾” (2cm) thick.
  • Knife and/or pizza wheel

Instructions

  1. Let butter soften to room temperature
  2. Heat Oven to 350F/175C
  3. Weigh out and mix dry ingredients
  4. Add room temperature butter and knead until the dough is fully integrated
  5. Loosely press parchment paper into the baking dish
  6. Press shortbread dough into all corners of the pan – compact it as much as possible
  7. Lay another sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough and find a round jar that can fit into your pan (i.e. a 500ml mason jar or salsa jar) to use as a mini rolling pin.
  8. Roll out and compress the shortbread until it is even. You will also need to press in dough that creeps up the sides with your fingers.
  9. Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut it into desired sized pieces then poke holes with a fork all over. You can also sprinkle sugar on top.
  10. Bake 35-40 minutes. It should be a little brown on the edges. As soon as you begin to smell it, it’s probably ready.
  11. Allow to thoroughly cool before gently removing the parchment paper with shortbread from the pan. It will break cleaner if it is chilled.

It’s Raclette time!

A few weeks ago, we had our friends Sam and Jess over. We met them in their early 20’s watched them both go through difficult times in the middle 20’s only to come out in their 30’s happily partnered to two great guys, with young ones either here or on the way. They both deserved the best! We decided on raclette for our brunch.

Raclette has an extremely long history, going back hundreds of years. For many centuries, the shepherds in the French alps would carry with them on their travels following their herds with a huge block of cheese. In the evening they would make a fire, stick the cheese on a staff, and as it began to melt would scrape it off onto bread – and voila – Supper! The word itself comes from the French ‘racler’ – the verb for ‘scrape’.

Raclette has come a long way since then. Today it is this magical, social, gooey hit of cheese, carbs, veggies and meat you serve yourself that makes for an infinitely flexible gathering.

Raclette cheese’s origin is in the Swis/French alps, and while similar to Gruyere, it is stronger and somewhat creamier. For a raclette, any semi hard cheese from this area – Gruyere immediately comes to mind, Jarlsberg too. You can experiment as well – Canadian old cheddar, Fontina would also be interesting.

Planning a raclette party

Its helpful to know how many are coming, as usual. Being generous helps: about 150g of meat and about 150g of cheese per person will be more than enough. 6 generous baguette slices per person will leave you comfortably with extra.

What is critical is planning it out so everyone can reach the raclette easily. Depending on how many, and the size/shape of your raclette, you may need two.

Meats and veggies are cut ahead of time, as well as baguettes baked and sliced. Thin slice your cheese or cheeses of choice. A salad is always a wonderful accompaniment, as are various dips: cream cheese, bbq sauce – whatever seems to fit. The best veggies are those that like to be grilled: peppers, zuccini, eggplant, mushrooms. Serve with a mineral water, light white wine or a fruity pinot – or even a crisp pilsner.

Simple, huh? And what a crowd pleaser. Each can make as much or as little as you want for themselves; you wind up putting veggies and meat on the grill for yourself and others too.

Simple yes – but it still takes time to put together and make pretty.

Getting the right raclette set

Raclette has sure come a long way, and there are many raclette sets to be had. They all feature a similar setup: small individual pans to melt the cheese underneath a burner – usually electric – and a grilling surface above the burner.

I’ve found that although our raclette set comes with 6 paddles, its better to have two of them going for between 6-8 people – it just gets too crowded, especially with all the little dishes to be had.

Your favorite kitchen or hardware store will either have them, or be able to order one for you. Ask or check their website. So will (sigh) Amazon, though I prefer to give my business to my local brick and mortar store. Were I to trade mine in I would now prefer the ones with a flat grilling surface, a lip around the edge, and an adjustable heater as you can more easily multi purpose them – for example doing your bacon, eggs and pancakes for breakfast as well.

Here is what our Raclette table looked like (before I set up the 2nd raclette):

Here’s what’s on the table:

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Peameal bacon
  • Regular bacon
  • Veggie dip – yogurt based
  • Raw veggies to eat as is or cook: peppers, broccoli, zuccini, carrots
  • Thin sliced marinated steak
  • Sausage
  • Duck breast confit
  • BBQ sauce
  • Sliced Gruyere
  • Sliced Jarlsberg
  • Sliced baguette (whole wheat sourdough)
  • Cranberry vinaigrette
  • Spiced apple vinaigrette
  • Tossed spinach salad
  • Nachos and salsa
  • Fruit plate – hey – it was a brunch!
  • Yogurt
  • Various desserts

As usual I prepared way too much. The following day, my son and his girlfriend dropped by so out it all came again, and we enjoyed raclette a second day in a row.

Biscotti

Anytime is a great time for biscotti, but I’m doing this in December, and so it’s part of my holiday baking. Biscotti recipes are easy to come by, and so my purpose in presenting yet one more is to get across a couple of important and cool cooking ideas:

  • Setting up a recipe
  • Using a potato (yes, truly)

Setting up a recipe

People who know me know that I have kept an ever growing spreadsheet of recipes for over a decade now. Essentially there’s a number of tabs – like baking, dessert, vegetable mains etc. and within each tab, each recipe has its own column. This is really useful as most online recipes are all in a column format and if I want to send someone a recipe, its copy and paste ‘text only’. You can also easily expand or contract the column so it fits conveniently into your cell phone window. I’ve noted to my son that since just about everything he has eaten at home is on this sheet, it is in a way his culinary DNA.

Also those who know and follow me know that I always use weight measurements. The first thing I do with someone else’s recipe is to weigh each ingredient and slot that into my sheet.

Ingredients

In the case of the biscotti, there are 4 separate ingredient preparations, and they must be added in order. The original recipe here is from Healthy Home Recipes. Its here: Cranberry Almond Chocolate Biscotti. The ingredient list is ordered in no particular way – left up to the cook to sort it all out.

I prefer to see it carefully ordered by clustering similar ingredients together and ordering them in the order they are used in the recipe. In this recipe, there are four sets of additions: eggs & vanilla, butter, dry ingredients, and flavoring mix. What follows are my version of the ingredient list, followed by the original. In my spreadsheet, the groups of ingredients are colour coded as well.

3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla 4 g
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted 50g
2 1/2 cups flour 220g
3/4 cup granulated sugar 120 g
13g baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt 2g
1-1.5 cups of whatever flavorings you want: cranberries, currants, slivered almonds, chocloate nibs. This can go as high as 2 cups, but at the risk of the dough not fully covering it all and them breaking apart easily.

Here’s how the original ingredient list is laid out. Note the apparent randomness:

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup sliced almonds
8 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

Here is the resulting mise en scene for a double batch:

Instructions

The instructions are not much changed from the original. What’s key is to precisely follow the mixing directions. As this recipe uses baking soda as its rising agent, the resulting batter must be minimally worked and shaped.

Here’s my version of the directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a stand mixer bowl, hand whisk together 3 eggs and vanilla.
  3. Melt 50g butter.
  4. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Prepare the 1.25 – 1.5 cups of nuts/fruit chocolate you want.
  6. Put the mixer bowl on the mixer and turn to MIX or stir. Add the melted butter then the dry ingredients and finally the nuts/fruit mix. Mix only until well combined. If you don’t have a stand mixer it really is not the end of the world for this recipe. It can all be done by hand.
  7. Turn the dough out onto parchment paper on a baking tray. Shape the log so that when cut diagonally it will yield biscotti of the shape profile you want. Use a potato cut in half for this. Keep in mind the log will double its width in cooking.
  8. Bake 25 minutes or until firm and dry to touch. Remove from oven.
  9. Reduce oven to 325°F.
  10. Transfer baked log to a cutting board. and let cool for about 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut the log diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices (or however thick you want your biscotti).
  11. Place slices on their base so that both sides are open to the air, on the baking sheet.
  12. Bake about 15 minutes or until dry and dark.
  13. Transfer to racks to cool.
  14. If you want them to be chocolate dipped: Melt the chocolate (white or real chocolate) in the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip each biscotti into the chocolate, at an angle, coating the end. Return to a cooled baking sheet and chill about 20 minutes or until chocolate is set.

Original instructions

Here is the original recipe text: Beyond the obvious change to using a numbered list, I’ve also prepared the ingredients in the order they appear in the recipe.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat liner. In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs and melted butter into the dry ingredients. Stir in the cranberries and almonds. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Flour your hands so that the dough won’t stick to them, and divide the dough into 3 equal 8x2x3/4-inch logs. Place one log on the baking sheet and bake 24 minutes or until firm and dry to touch. Remove from oven. Reduce oven to 325°F. Transfer baked log to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the log diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place slices, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes or until dry and dark. Transfer to racks; cool. Repeat with the other two logs. Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip each biscotti into the chocolate, at an angle, coating the end. Return to a cooled baking sheet and chill about 20 minutes or until chocolate is set.

The potato??

This idea was presented on Food 52’s Chocolate Crocante recipe. This looks like a pretty amazing confection that is harder than it seems. The big idea here is that the potato’s moisture and starch provide excellent lubrication for sticky sweet bakes that would easily frustrate a spatula. Just cut the potato in half and use it to shape your log.

Finally, the pictures here show a double recipe. In one case I added currants and the almond sugar mix from my failed crocante recipe. In the other I went with semi sweet Camino chocolate nibs and dried cranberries, with a sprinkle of cocoa on top.

Final thoughts

When you first see a recipe that you know you want to make, I’m guessing the first thing you do is find the ingredients and assemble them all together. Does the order and how you set them up make a difference to you? Is there not some peace and satisfaction that comes with not only having all the ingredients, but having them set up in such a way that your procedure is logical and consecutive? Whenever I see a recipe where the ingredients are not clearly laid out and sorted, I make changes to it. I could also operate with an unordered layout – but prefer not to. Mis en scene: French for ‘put in place’ is a critical part of cooking preparation. It helps to ensure you do your recipe properly, and helps the cleanup too. Just as the physical layout helps my culinary piece of mind, I like it reflected on paper (or my cell phone) as well.

Perhaps this is a reason I pop all my recipes onto my spreadsheet. If they are worth doing, they are worth doing well, and worth repeating. Being able to retrieve them easily, and having them make immediate sense in its own way promotes great kitchen karma.

Kombucha part 2

Kombucha Revisited

Kombucha is the perfect answer to our craving for fizzy non alcoholic beverages. It is wonderfully flavored, gently effervescent, only slightly sweet, nicely complex, and overall delicious. Although made with black tea and sugar, the bacteria have feasted on these very ingredients, changing them in their wonderful alchemy into more bacteria, yeast, carbon dioxide and a slight bit of alcohol.

How I came to Kombucha

My journey with fermented foods is now well into its fifth year. Such a lot has happened, and what our household consumes has remarkably changed in these years. Health has also subtly but perceptibly changed too. I now can’t remember when anyone was down and out with a cold or flu, yet we’ve been in contact with many who have. No one has reported urinary infections, yeast problems, or anything like.

My initiation to kombucha had nothing to do with this though. I was aware of kombucha, but had never tried it. One day shopping, I bought a bottle and it was decent if unremarkable. There was a small slimy thing in it I now recognize as a tiny scoby. I set aside a 1 cup jar with the scoby and some mango-orange juice to see what would happen. Indeed in about a week, it consumed all that juicy sugar and now had grown. “Well”, said I, “this is most interesting. Lets see where we can take this.” Long story short, I began investigating, joined the Kombucha Nation FB group, started a spreadsheet to chart my initial attempts, purchased a 3 gallon stone crock. By far the most succinct and useful article on it is a Wiley Library online article. I strongly advise readers to click the link for their (albeit nerdy and highly scientific) overview.

Initially my family members were pretty skeptical, and in my initial attempts, understandably so. They still kept going for the spritzer, worried that my bottles might explode in their faces or that somehow they might be poisoned, or that it would be simply awful. None of that happened, and now our homemade kombucha is the go-to drink. In fact I’m in deep trouble if there is not a couple of bottles of cherry kombucha waiting in the fridge.

About this blog

This blog is the online accompaniment to my first kombucha workshop at Karma Coop in Toronto. I’ve delayed doing such a workshop because of the complexity of the drink. It requires a lot more commitment, space, and timing than sourdough bread – so far my other workshop. Similar to sourdough, one is doing some serious microbial husbandry. Under the wrong conditions, the bacteria can die, while under the right conditions, they can produce magic.

As workshop participants you likely came because you are already familiar with commercial kombucha, and would like to be able to do it a lot more cheaply, and be in control of the flavors you want. However, there are a few things you need to invest in and be prepared to brew in a narrow range of days. So lets start there:

Equipment needed:

  • 3 gallon crock will make 6 litres of kombucha at a time.
  • 2 L (or so) pot (for the sugar syrup)
  • 4-5L pot (for the tea)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Large bowl
  • Large strainer
  • Prep bottles: I prefer the 1L glass juice bottles. Mason jars could work except that what is called 1 liter is anywhere between 900ml and 1L.

The six 1L bottles I use to prepare the brew.

  • Storage Bottles: You need about 2 times the bottle volume than the kombucha you are planning on making. Your bottles must have a narrow neck, like a beer or wine bottle. Unless you use a narrow necked bottle of some kind, it won’t carbonate as well. The shape of the narrow necked beer bottle encourages natural carbonation. This is because the fermenting yeasts do not require oxygen, whereas the bacteria involved do. The narrow neck in a sealed bottle reduces the oxygen available, encouraging the yeast to continue fermenting, converting the sugars into carbon dioxide.Finally, consider where you will keep it in the fridge. They should be stored upright so your bottles need the headroom.

Here are some bottle options:

You could purchase 500ml-750ml-1000L flip top bottles at hardware or kitchen stores

Wash out and save wine bottles

Have a Corona party where you provide the beer. (non screw off top bottles are better as they seal a bottle cap better.) If you go this route, you also need to buy a bottle capper and bottle caps. In Toronto these can be purchased from a number of local wine making or brewer’s stores. (two are noted here but there are others) [photo of bottle capper and caps]

Any other bottle as long as it has a very narrow neck.

  • Measuring cups
  • A funnel that fits in a beer bottle
  • A fine strainer that can nest in the funnel

The funnel and strainer in the beer bottle

  • Weigh scale – use an electronic scale as you will be weighing and taring bottles.
  • Labels – its a good idea to know what’s in the bottle and when it was bottled.

That’s the physical equipment. Beyond that you need the following ingredients: These quantities will produce a 6 L brew.

  • A SCOBY ( a Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast) For your first brew you need it gifted to you. For subsequent brews, reuse your scoby.
  • Kombucha starter: 1 litre or so of your previous batch. For your first brew, you can get by with commercial kombucha, but its best if it can be gifted to you
  • Tea: you can use a variety of tea (20g)
  • Sugar – any will do (600g)
  • Water – distilled, reverse osmosis, filtered, UV treated: you want to avoid water with treatment chemicals or other bacteria that could interact with your ferment and produce off tastes (4-5L)
  • Juice: NOT fruit drink! Real juice! (2L)

It’s important to recognize that there are many ways to make kombucha. Google it or read through the Kombucha Nation FB page for other techniques and ideas. I’m presenting this method as a fail safe way to at least get started before you try your own variations.

Time commitment

Your kombucha brews in its first fermentation (F1) phase for about 10 days. This could be as little as 8 and as long as 14 days, at about 19C. If it is warmer, the fermentation must be shorter, if cooler, it can be longer. What you want to avoid is it getting over fermented and turning to vinegar. If its brewed too quickly, the bacteria won’t have fully fermented.

On brew day, it will take about 2 hours of your time. This can be split up over 2 days.

Space

You need to have the following space available

  • A kitchen counter
  • A hopefully cool dark place to store your first ferment (called 1F from now on)
  • A cool dark place to store your bottles with the second ferment in it (called 2F from now on)
  • Fridge space to store 4-6 bottles at a time.

The existential kombucha questions

  • Do I want to invest in equipment needed?
  • Do I have the space?
  • Do I want to be locked into making booch every week and a half?

If your answer to all these questions is a hearty and enthusiastic YES! Then lets get going – Those in my workshop can Email me and I will get you set up with a scoby and starter.

Brewday!

Mise en scene: pots, tea, sugar, jars, weigh scale, funnel, 1F brew, bottles

Every 10 days or so I do a Kombucha brew day. I start a new batch and bottle the old. I process about 6 litres at a time and the method I have worked out gives me reliable, delicious kombucha every time. Here’s how:

  1. Make the tea: Heat 2L water, 20g tea and 200g sugar until boiling. Put a lid on it and turn to low. After 5 minutes turn off and leave for about 20 minutes or until the tea is strong. Changing the quantities will change the amount of kombucha you make.

The tea: 200g sugar, 20g tea, 2L water, with another 2 L to be added.

  1. Make sugar syrup: Sugar syrup is a 1:1 sugar:water mix. It needs to be fully dissolved. Weigh 350ml sugar and 350g water in the smaller pot. Heat until the sugar  is fully dissolved,  but don’t boil as the evaporation will change the ratio of sugar to water. Pour into a jar that you can easily pour from.

    About to remove the scoby, and pour the 1F into jars.

     

  2. Take your crock and remove the scoby to the large bowl. Cover it with fresh water.

The scoby waiting in a bowl to be added to the next brew.

  1. Place your weigh scale beside your crock and have liter bottles ready. Pour 650g of 1F kombucha in each bottle. Leave approximately 1L of 1F kombucha in the crock. Its important to weigh the kombucha as 650g of kombucha will not quite be the same as 650ml

    The 1F brew added to the jar. A couple of grams off is OK.

  2. Add 100g of sugar syrup to each bottle (i.e. 50g sugar). Make sure your syrup is not hotter than lukewarm.
  3. There will be approximately 250ml of space left in each bottle. Fill each up with juice of your choice.
  4. Prepare your bottles according to the quantities before you. 1 L will nicely fill 3 x 330ml beer bottles, or 2 500ml fliptops – its all easy math.
  5. Nest the strainer in your filter and fill each bottle until it goes into the neck of the bottle, and cap it.
  6. Label it – flavor and date – and store
  7. Add 2 litres of cold water to your tea. If it is quite hot, weigh out 2kilos of ice cubes and add that, or a mix of weighed ice cubes and cold water. The temperature cannot be higher than lukewarm.
  8. Strain the tea (should be about 4 L) into the crock with the starter kombucha.
  9. Add the scoby and the water it was in.
  10. Cover tightly and store in a cool dark place for 10 or so days.
  11. Leave some of the bottled (2F) kombucha at room temperature for about 4 days. It will begin to develop natural CO2. If you give the bottle a gentle shake you will see if it is fermented or not by the bubbles that appear. DO NOT shake vigorously! Store the rest of it in a cool place. If all of it remains above 21C it will need to be refrigerated after 4 days otherwise it will quickly over ferment and you will get very messy explosions.

Done! 19 333 ml bottles, 3 different flavors.

A few other notes….

The SCOBY

You need to find a scoby – most people get one from a friend, or someone you know. Anyone who makes kombucha can peel off some of their scoby and give it away. If you are truly in need, take one of the tiny scobys from a commercial Kombucha and put it in a 1 cup jar with a little juice. Leave it out, covered, on the counter. It should grow. As it gets bigger, feed it more juice, and work up towards the container you will be fermenting your kombucha in. You also need to get a litre of kombucha as a starter. This can be from said friend, or can be bought commercially.

Fruit flies

Fruit flies love kombucha too. They can’t keep away – they’ll even dive bomb anything that does not have a lid. If you have these critters buzzing around you will need to cover the kombucha, keep lids on your jars and bottles and and tie several layers of a thick tea towel on top of your crock tightly with a string or elastic. If you do get an infestation on your scoby, toss that top layer off as its going to be hiding eggs, and be scrupulously careful about ensuring nothing can get in.

How long can you keep it?

Kombucha is pretty happy in a cool environment for a couple of weeks, but after that it really should be refrigerated, otherwise it will be over carbonated and fizz up or even explode. If it is kept longer than a month, it will ultimately change to vinegar.

What else can you do with kombucha?

  • Marinate meat: because it is acidic it has a similar effect on meat as does wine or beer. Before adding the kombucha, rub 1.5% of the weight of the meat in salt, and add pepper and garlic. Leave for about an hour, then add kombucha until the meat is marinated and flavored. Its best to leave it for several hours. Before cooking the meat you can reduce the marinade, add flavorings and cornstarch to make a rich gravy.
  • As a mixed drink: with vodka, gin, rum… try out different possibilities. Likewise it can be a mojito base
  • If it turns to vinegar, use as the acid in a salad dressing. By weight: 3 parts oil, 1 part kombucha.
  • Anything you do with juice, you can do with kombucha

Health concerns

Kombucha contains active lactic acid bacteria. This is the same stuff as the gut bacteria in your body that keeps you healthy. In our family, we depend on kombucha to keep us healthy around. However, more is not always better. Kombucha can be wonderfully preventative, but also if you drink too much you could get sick too. Everyone is different, and it really is unpredictable. My suggestion would be to try a single bottle in a day and see how your system reacts to it, and go by what feels right for you.

Cleanup

The main cleanup issues concern your bottles once you have poured a brew. They really must be thoroughly rinsed right after pouring. If you have a dishwasher, definitely put them in there. However, don’t count on your dishwasher to actually get a lot of water up that narrow neck and clean things as you would expect. In fact if you put your dishes in without rinsing them there’s a good chance some of those food particles will get baked on the inside of your bottle. The main purpose of the dishwasher is to sanitize the bottles by virtue of the heat. You want your bottles as clean as you can get them, otherwise unwanted bacteria and yeast will find your kombucha a pleasing environment to grow in too.

Cleaning your crock between brews is, as far as I am concerned, optional: it should be kept free from anything except the scoby and kombucha you put into it, so unless you are getting an off brew, I would keep your starter booch in the crock, add the tea and the scoby and wrap it up again.

Sooooo………….A quick brewday recap:

First ferment (1F)

  • 2L water
  • 20g tea
  • 200g sugar
  • 2L more water once tea has brewed and cooled down (tea must be at room temperature before the scoby and starter are added.)
  • Into your crock, pour the tea (strained), your scoby from the prior batch, and 1 litre of kombucha from your prior batch. Cover and ferment at room temperature for about 10 days.

2nd ferment (2F)

Per litre of finished kombucha, combine

  • 650 g 1F kombucha (from your crock)
  • 100g of 1:1 syrup:water
  • 250g juice

Bottle in narrow necked bottles, leave at room temperature for 4-5 days.

Resources

Kombucha Nation FB group https://www.facebook.com/groups/KombuchaNation.CulturesHealthHealing/

is a great resource to see how others do Kombucha. There is a thorough files section to more carefully examine different aspects of Kombucha.

Homage to Mollie Katzen

Homage to Mollie Katzen

I’m fine doing a recipe, even creating and adjusting one. Where I fall down is that initial spark of creativity to figure out what to do in the first place. Unlike what seems to be the norm these days, I don’t head over to Pinterest and dial up some assortment of interesting recipes to browse through. Boringly I start by looking in the fridge seeing what is there, and figuring out something that can be made reasonably quickly.

My wife has other ideas. Not exactly heading to Pinterest – but pulling 30 year old fav cookbooks off the shelf she hasn’t looked at for a long time. It was essentially a message to me: “I’m getting a little tired with the same same. You need to broaden things a bit.” My reaction was “Sure, tell me what you would like.”

Three of the books were by Mollie Katzen: The Moosewood Cookbook, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Still life with Menu.

Mollie Katzen first came to prominence in the 1970’s with the famous Moosewood Cookbook – one of the best selling cookbooks of all time. It’s a vegetarian classic with pretty much any go to vegetarian dish that is out there. My humus and babaganouj recipes are right out of it. Back in my vegetarian days, her books were a constant go to reference.

Its interesting looking at the recipes now – 30-40 years later. So much has changed: all recipes show volumes – no weights. There’s a lot of cheese happening, and there is no mention at all of fermentation. These books were developed before the internet too. Moosewood is hand written and hand drawn. Over the years, our well used copies are getting very dog eared, with notes and stickies everywhere.

If you do not already have these two books, I would strongly recommend buying them. They are still unique, and still relevant in these faster moving times.

My idea here is to do something of an homage to Mollie and her superb work from a generation ago. Still life with Menu has an interesting concept: instead of a series of recipes categorized by type, a set of menus are presented. Also, she presents options for preparing parts of each meal several days ahead of time – the idea being that you are not scurrying about on the day the meal is served. Finally, each menu is accompanied by a watercolour showing some or all of the menu as a classic still life painting. So my project here will be to try out a number of these menus, and recording my thoughts in this blog.

Light tomato soup, Jewelled Rice Salad, and Yogurt scones

I didn’t have to prepare this one several days apart. It was pretty easy to pull together and I did take some short cuts. I’ll present the original recipe on one side and my variation and notes on the other: Generally I am cutting the recipe in half as there are but three of us eating.

Original ingredients: Light tomato soup My variation
3 lbs ripe tomatoes in chunks 750 ml of my home made tomato sauce
4 cloves garlic, chopped 2 heaping tablespoons of homemade pesto
6-8 fresh basil leaves
2 tbs brown sugar 1 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp salt ½ tsp salt
Pepper to taste Pepper to taste
Parsely and/or dill as garnish. Parsely and/or dill as garnish.

Next up: Yogurt scones

These are, as promised, very light and airy scones. They are more like baked pancakes than anything else. This makes them quite tempting – they were definitely all consumed. As with other recipes I made a half batch, and converted volumes to weights. The instructions are as expected: mix wet, mix dry, & combine stirring as little as possible, bake – 400 12-15 minutes.

I made one addition to it: I added some sourdough starter, and left it all on the counter for about an hour.

Original Yogurt scones My version (approximately half the recipe)
1.5c white flour 110g all purpose flour
1.5c whole wheat flour 70g whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder 1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt 3.6g sal. This is 2% of the flour weight and a much higher % than in the original.
6 tbs cold butter (unsalted) – interesting – back in the day salted/unsalted was not distinguished 45g unsalted butter
2 tbs packed brown sugar 13g brown sugar (when you weigh it, you do not have to be concerned with it being packed or not)
½ c packed raisins 35g currants
1 ¼ c yogurt .75c yogurt
2 eggs (1 egg in mix, 1 beaten and brushed on top) 1 egg + egg white to brush on top
I also added 2 tbs of sourdough starter

After an hour on the counter the sourdough was beginning to work its magic.

I think you will be able to read the original instructions in the photo below.

This recipe worked out quite well, and really was exceptionally easy. As usual I could not help weighing things. The scones turned out a little like pancakes as well – hardly a surprise as they are a batter dropped onto a cookie tray. One change I would recommend is to use parchment paper. This will guarantee nothing sticks. Was parchment paper a thing 30 years ago? Perhaps not.

Finally, a jewelled rice salad.

This was one recipe I did make some significant changes to. I’ve been making grain salads for years now – they offer almost endless variety with the array of grains to choose from and all of the wonderful stuff you can put into them. But in the ‘80’s they were a new idea, and in my opinion we owe a debt of thanks to MK and her collaborators for bring them to our tables.

That said, we have definitely pushed the envelope by 2018 s you will see when the original and my recipe are compared. We want a bigger bolder taste, and this was achieved with a ponegranate half. As in other recipes I cut the original in half.

Jeweled rice salad (original) My version (half the quantity)

I did not weigh these ingredients.

Rice: 2c rice, 3 c water I had brown rice already cooked, so I used 2 cups of that
⅓ c olive oil ⅓ c olive oil ( felt it needed more oil)
6-8 tbs lemon juice 3-4 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp salt
1 large clove garlic 1 clove garlic
1 tbs honey 1/2 tbs honey
4-6 scallions cut fine 2 scallions cut fine
½ c finely minced parsley ½ c finely minced parsley. I thought it deserved more parsley
1 c toasted pecans 1 c toasted pecans. Likewise. I did not halve these
Fresh ground pepper to taste Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 c red or green seedless grapes I did not have these. Too bad. I substituted soaked raisins.
1 cup chickpeas ½ cup chickpeas
Toasted pecan halves. Toasted pecan halves.
I thought the whole dish at the end needed some additional strong flavors. I added in addition
⅓ cup chopped granny smith apple
2 tbs pomegranate seeds.

Directions

  1. Cook the rice. MK has some very specific directions for the rice (which I did not follow as I already had some available):
    1. Bring to a boil
    2. Lower heat to lowest simmer for 35 minutes
    3. Transfer to a shallow platter and spread to let steam escape. This prevents it overcooking in its own heat
  2. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, garlic and honey
  3. Add parsley, pecans and pepper.
  4. Mix well in its serving bowl, add garnishes – pecans, scallions, parsley

And there is my first revisit of Still Life with Menu. Both it and Moosewood are still readily available, and I would strongly recommend getting them. They may easily become your go to sources for all that is vegetarian.

I hope you give these recipes a try – and as you can see, they are quite amenable to variation.