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.

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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.

Pork Tenderloin

Last weekend we had the pleasure of our son’s company for a couple of days. Its always a pleasure to see him – he brings such an air of freshness, optimism and vitality that helps us to refresh ourselves.

I was thinking of what to do for dinner, and I had kind of thought along the lines of a raclette, but there were other options as well. I suggested these, thinking of what I had brought back from the market.

I had to go a little late to the market – and sometimes one risks the vendors running out of food. Sure enough when I got there, the meat counter was devoid of all roasts steaks and chops. There was however a single pork tenderloin – quite small – under 400g but enough.

That was what he wanted – and said ‘leave it to me/we’ll do it together’.

Very well then. I took the precaution of salting it as dinner was clearly headed in this direction.

Here is the story of how it transpired. The lesson in it is how a good cook can get the general idea of the dish, and make it something new yet their own. In this case simplicity prevailed; the desire to bring out the best in the meat with the least amount of work.

He started off his search with Gordon Ramsay – a fav go to of his ever since I showed him the Hash Brown video. So he searched out his Pork tenderloin video. Its quite delightful watching Ramsay cook – such high energy, but also he is so exact about what you do when.

It was clear to us that our sad little 400g piece was nothing like the succulant 1 kilo fat enshrouded piece Ramsay was working with. To begin with, our piece was completely lean. It was, however all in one piece, and thick enough that it could be cut open.

The big idea about this recipe, so it seemed, was to prepare a stuffed tenderloin, but it didn’t have to be all that was in Ramsay’s recipe.

So he started cutting open the meat, and layering in his filling: apple, garlic, pepper. This was followed up with preparing a glaze, a technique picked up from making Christmas turkey. I just happened to have some pork stock on hand, to which was added some maple syrup and apple juice. 

Next was what I felt was a genius move: wrap the whole thing in bacon. That would serve to nicely intensify the taste. Finally, as the Ramsay video shows, tie it up with butcher string.

 

Since our piece of meat was lacking a few things, we wanted to keep it moist. So instead of putting it directly in the oven, we decided to bake it in a dutch oven on a trivet (made of mason jar lids) with the glaze providing the moistening.

With an accompaniment of green salad with viniagrette, braised turnip and parsnip, a warmed grain salad, sauteed mushrooms, broccoli, beer bread as a side and rhubarb apple pie with homemade vanilla ice cream, it was a delicious weekend dinner at the cottage. Were we to do it again, we would have added a good hit of rosemary, but as it was, the apple and garlic truly served to bring out the taste of the cut. Simple, and delicious.

Here is the tenderloin recipe:

Ingredients

450g pork tenderloin

half a granny smith (or other tart apple) apple sliced thin
1 large clove garlic sliced thin
5 rashers of bacon
pepper
salt

Glaze/broth

3 tbs broth
about 6tbs apple juice
2 tbs maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Salt the tenderloin for several hours – but at least 60 minutes.
  2. Oven to 400F/205C
  3. Slice open the tenderloin.
  4. Thinly cut apple & garlic and insert into the cut tenderloin.
  5. For the glaze heat the broth, apple juice, and maple syrup.
  6. Tightly roll up the tenderloin then wrap bacon around the meat. Tie off the roll with string – one string on each bacon rasher.
  7. Put the wrapped tenderloin on a trivett in a Dutch oven.
  8. Pour the glaze over the tenderloin, cover, and bake for 45 minutes – more if your tenderloin is bigger.

Massaged Winter Salad

Fermenting has been an amazing journey this year. I’ve learned more in one year about food investigating and playing with fermented foods than in any other year – or so it seems.

This is a salad – and its not made with fermented foods, though they could be an ingredient. Its premise is, however entirely rooted in fermenting processes.

Winter salads are going to be a thing we’ll need to return to after a generation of getting accustomed to getting any kind of food at any time  of year at reasonable prices – such has been both the promise, and the pitfall of the planet destroying big agriculture business.

massaged salad1

The foundation of this salad are winter vegetables  – carrots, cabbage, and onion. Simply put, you weigh them, and then massage in 2% of their weight in salt – just like what one does when one prepares a vegetable ferment.

If this turns on that culinary light bulb inside you, then stop reading and go make your own.

But for the rest, here’s what happens. when the salt is actually massaged into the carrots, onions and cabbage, it breaks down the cell walls, drawing out the juice within the vegetables, marinates the vegetables and imparts an ideal gentle saltiness. The result is completely different than if you simply sprinkled the salt over it.

That done, what you do with it next depends on you and what kind of flavour profile you want it to have. Definitely pepper will suit this. Beyond that, garlic, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil provides a Mediterranean flavor. Cilantro and cumin with a bit more heat suggests more Mexican. Working with honey/maple syrup, tamari, sesame and ginger yields a more oriental palate.   You can add other vegetables that are not massaged and happen to be available – peppers, spinach,. celery, tomato, avocado…. and so on.

Likewise the dressing can be very flexible – from a simple vinaigrette to a complex spiced orange or roasted sesame & garlic. For a basic dressing that suits our Canadian winter I’m as often to turn to a viniagrette with olive oil and apple cider vinegar, supplemented with salt, pepper, mustard, and cranberry juice or even cranberry relish.

Here is one specific recipe to try:

1 large shaved carrot (i.e. once you have peeled the skin keep peeling off big peels until nothing is left of the carrot)

3-4 very thin slices of cabbage – approximately 100g

half a small red onion

sprinkle approximately 1/4 tsp of salt, and massage it into the vegetables  for about 30 seconds to a minute. Taste – the cabbages or carrots should taste nicely salted. If they don’t, add a little more salt and repeat. Its important not to over-salt.

Or you can precisely weigh the vegetables and add 2% of their weight in salt.

Add other vegetables. thinly sliced peppers, spinach for example.

Also toasted walnuts or almonds, apple slices spinach leaves can be added – to taste – just don’t include them with the massaging.

For a dressing, a cranberry vinaigrette – though you can use whatever you like.

  • 90g olive oil
  • 30g apple cider vinegar
  • 20g cranberry chutney and or concentrated cranberry juice
  • 1 tbs dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly and enjoy

massaged salad2

 

My personal cookbook

So how do you keep track of all the recipes that come flying at you in blogs, emails, websites, subscriptions, your mom’s index cards…. and even books? What happens if you travel somewhere? How do you access this? I’m getting the idea that what I do is somewhat unorthodox – I’ve found I’m usually on the path less travelled – but none the less there are occasional kindred spirits along the road.

This is about how I keep track of it all. We’ll see how many of you think the idea actually has some legs.

My inspiration goes back to about 2009 and a book The The Cure for Death by Lightning By Gail Andersen Dargatz.   This is a wonderful, tragic, deep hitting novel about a poverty stricken community in rural BC in the late 1940’s. In it the mother of the main family keeps a scrapbook in which she puts and writes anything to do with her cooking. It forms not just a personal recipe collection and reflection, it is a diary – the life of her family revealed through a culinary perspective. I thought at the time that its a cool idea  – and wondered how it could happen for me.

It didn’t take me long to fix on Excel as the vehicle to go with. Recipes on the internet are always  written in columnar fashion. I use excel for virtually any function that requires data entry, and feel very comfortable in this environment. It enables tons of text data without taking up a lot of space. It can be sorted so that a chronology can be entered. It’s easy to copy and paste a recipe – most of the time recipes are a simple copy and paste. It’s equally easy to respond to those “Ooooh! that was delicious – can you send me the recipe?”. Sure. No problem. It’s easy to find, easy to copy into an email and send it along.

In the last few years I’ve migrated it to Google sheets   – this enables me to use whatever computer I’m at without worrying about backups,

How it works

  • Each sheet is a different food category: baking, desserts, soups, salads, etc.
  • Each column is one recipe.
  • Each row has a few common elements: row 1: title; row 2: source or URL row 3: date entered; row 4 notes. Below that its however the recipe comes to you.
  • And that folks is it!

I should note that I have a couple of other sheets not part of this: a bread baking log, a sausage log, and a fermentation log.  

How can you use it?

  • Being a google sheet, and in columns, its easy to read and even edit on an android phone.
  • I can make changes on the fly without having to worry about saving or backing up
  • Easily store every recipe you have.
  • Share it with your loved ones – in effect creating a growing family cookbook. In my case, only my son has editing privileges. He’s turning out to be a good cook, and he knows Excel a lot better than I do. As I noted to him, “This spreadsheet constitutes your culinary DNA.”
  • Whenever a friend makes something that I find remarkable, I’ll get them to contribute. This usually means they tell me orally what the recipe is, I write it down, and put it in the spreadsheet. Then I send them a copy of that by email with the question – “Is this what you meant?” Once they are clear and I am clear this is the recipe, in it goes
  • Copying a recipe, you have the option to either paste the text only or keep it in a table. Thus you could easily pick off certain recipes and put them together as a small self published book for friends.
  • Use any of the empty cells to do measurement calculations
  • Like with any spreadsheets you can widen or narrow the rows and  columns. The text wrapping controls offer more possibilities than Excel.

Generally if you are comfortable in a spreadsheet environment, you will be comfortable with this.  Since its a google sheet, it’s best viewed in Chrome. If you don’t have it already, you may need to get Google Drive from their play store. If you can download it as an Excel document that will work too.

If this means of storing recipes is an idea you would like to play with, download it as an Excel file, then do your playing. You don’t even need to do that. The concept is the thing.

What I have done is to copy and paste one of the sheets with all its warts and wrinkles. I’ve made it editable by anyone with the link. It means that I am prepared for it to be inadvertently (or deliberately) messed up. I figure that chances are it will be ok, but if it’s not I’ll just copy and paste from my personal file. If you like it as an approach to store your recipes, great. Go for it. The value is more in the process than in the recipes themselves.

As the years go by, it grows. How can it not? At this point, after 6 years, I’m about at 600 recipes. Who knows where it will go.

Here’s the link https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1qCoT2R1XCij-vHwCGcr-C0LwxZqcTfJDQuXHauxpEpE/edit#gid=0

I am curious in this day of infinite possibilities, how do you keep track of your recipes?

Fermented vegetables part 1

brined slaw (1)

A brined slaw I’m fermenting

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My new crock pot. I’m so excited!

 

Eric Satie, that eccentric Parisian who penned a couple of our most haunting tunes once said, “Show me something new and I’ll start all over.” I feel a little like that concerning fermented   – or cultured – vegetables.

Its now been several months that I’ve been experimenting with  cultured vegetables. Its high time I chronicled it all on the blog. But so much has happened that I’ve decided to break it down into more ‘digestible’ chunks.

It all started this spring……and the annual wild onion harvest…. Vegetable fermentation had been on my back burner for several years. Michael Pollan’s chapter in Cooked still unread, a friend at my coop who said she’d show  me not yet called. A combination of wondering what to do with an immense pile of wild onion leaves, and my butcher’s first release of cultured veggies got my ball finally rolling on this.

I thought I’d start off with how fermentation works with vegetables and why these things are good for you. I’ll credit the sources as I go.

The fermentation process

All vegetables have small amounts of lactobacillus bacteria – among many others. Once exposed to water, they begin to feed on the sugars and starches on the vegetables, and do as all living things do: reproduce and excrete. In this case, they produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide. They are also very tolerant to salt – which is good, because the harmful bacteria which would lead to molds and spoilage, really can’t tolerate a high acid, high salt environment.

In making fermented vegetables,  you are either going to add a brine (2-5% salt per weight of water) or add salt (2-4% by vegetable weight) then massage and pack down the vegetables, ensuring they are fully covered in the brine juice, then leave them at room temperature for a few days. That’s it, basically.

But not quite – though you don’t need to do much else. In the fermentation process, 3 different species of lactobacillus eat, reproduce, release and finally die off. They succeed each other as the acid level rises and they can no longer live in that environment.The first lactobacillus that goes to work is Leuconostoc mesenteroides. Once it raises the acidity to .3% it dies off and in its place, Lactobacillus plantarum  carries acidity to 2%. Finally Lactobacillus brevis kicks in until its final acidity level of between 2.5%-3.4%. It would carry on fermenting and developing stronger and stronger tastes – so this is when it goes into the fridge to slow it all down to a more dormant state.

What happens when it hits your tummy: You are what you eat

Our stomachs – indeed our whole digestive system  – functions as a microbiome that is home to thousands of microbial species. Many of them are in the lactobacillus genus and are responsible for secreting chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine which affect our moods, appetite, sense of fullness and well being. Clearly what we introduce into our digestive biome is going to affect and alter it – for better or worse.

In the case of our fermented vegetables, its for the better. The lactobacillus interact with and complement the digestive work of our own bacteria – improving digestion, regulating mood, and generally getting our whole system in balance. Claims  have been made that fermented vegetables help with conditions such as diarrhea, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, colitis, food addictions, autism, and addictions.

The expert resources

This has been but a very brief layman’s overview, and does not truly do it justice. I would strongly recommend reading these sources for more detailed and expert information:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/wild-fermentation/how-vegetable-fermentation-works-/10151520254610369

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/03/fermenting-veggies-at-home-follow-food-safety-abcs/#.VdXW-vlVhBd

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-790-lactobacillus.aspx?activeingredientid=790&activeingredientname=lactobacillus

http://www.wildfermentation.com/whats-so-wild-about-fermentation/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/can-the-bacteria-in-your-gut-explain-your-mood.html?_r=1

Also check out the Wild Fermentation Facebook page – its very active and has a mine of information. https://www.facebook.com/groups/WlidFermentation/

And… Definitely buy Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation book

My thanks!

To a couple of market vendors who got me really rolling on this journey. These weren’t really long conversations – but enough to get my own internal fermentation going on this.

  • Cathy at http://www.countrymeadowmeats.com/ who rolled out her first cultured vegetables the same weekend I did my first go at fermented wild onion leaves. If you are up in Owen Sound – definitely visit them.
  • Dina who runs Mighty Fine Brine who turned me on to brined pickles, and to the wild fermentation facebook page!

The ultimate ‘from scratch’ burger

This blog is all about how to make your own homemade burgers. I don’t only mean the meat part. I mean everything that goes into them: the condiments and the buns as well.  Well,  maybe not the cheese, and you may be buying your own tomatoes and onions too. Nor is there a beer recipe for an accompanying brew.  This is  about everything else: the pattie, the bun, the condiments.

I know that can sound a little silly given what most people do:  head down to the store, grab some buns and some patties, cut up a few tomatoes and cheese. Barbeque. Dollop store bought  ketchup, mustard, and relish on them.

This blog is for those who want to kick up their culinary game and  do it all from scratch. So if you crave the adulation of your foodie friends impressed with your culinary DIY wizardry, then read on. In addition to the meat, I’m including a lentil burger recipe for all the wonderful vegans and vegetarians out there. I’m also covering mayo and dijon mustard, as I know lots of you like those on your burgers too.

It may seem quite daunting but really, its not. Everything except the buns are all made ahead of time. I’ve got other blogs where this is all referenced. However, I’m putting up the recipes here so you can stay on this page and make a batch of 6 burgers plus all the trimmings from what’s here and have a great time. You can dig into my other blogs for more details and refinements.  So let’s go into each of these pieces that makes up the quintessential American burger and look at how each one is done.

Before we start… know this…. I use a weigh scale and everything here is expressed in grams….

The buns (2 hours total time, 20 minutes of hands on time)

Let’s start with the buns because the buns are the only thing you need to really think about the day of. After all, if you’re going to all this trouble, why ruin it with buns a day or two old?  I’ll assume that you’re somewhat familiar with baking but if you’re not that’s okay too. I’ll separate this into a note for those of you comfortable with making breads and another for those of you not so familiar: A fail safe bun recipe. The quickie recipe may be a good option for those of you ‘already bakers’ but pressed for time.

You are already a bread baker

Familiar with bread already? Make up your basic bread dough – whether its yeast, sourdough or something hybrid. Prepare your dough as you usually do. When it comes time to shape, cut the dough into 110g or so chunks and let them rest while you get other things ready. Prepare a cookie sheet big enough to handle your buns. Line it with parchment paper or a silpat liner. Pour out a mound of sesame seed on the counter. Gradually press out the burger bun into the sesame seed and gently press them out until they have reached the desired burger shape. Egg white wash is optional, as is a brushing of oil on the top. Cover with a damp cloth until they have risen  – as you would for your usual bread. Bake for 12 minutes at 450 – you may need to adjust this depending on your local situation, but the buns should register beyond 190 degrees when done.

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Baking is new for you

Basic bun recipe: For 6 burgers, and using instant yeast, do as follows: (total time: 2 hrs from “OK lets do this! to “Wow! They look amazing!” ‘Hands on’ time – about 30 minutes )

Ingredients

  • 250 ml tepid or room temperature water
  • 10g instant bread yeast
  • 390g flour
  • 8g salt

Method

  1. Mix 10g instant bread yeast with 250g of tepid water. (You can use a lot less yeast too – like 3g -, and it will yield a more complex and tasty result, and take a lot longer to rise – like 8 or more hours.)
  2. While the yeast begins to develop, mix the dry ingredients: 390g flour (all purpose, whole wheat, a combination – your choice), 7g salt.
  3. Combine the water/yeast with the flour/salt and knead for about 5 minutes. Cover with a damp towel and leave to rise until it is clearly rising. This will be approximately 45  minutes to an hour depending on the room temperature: the warmer the room, the faster the rise.
  4. Gently remove the dough and knead by stretching the dough and folding over itself. (View this video between the 4:50 and 5:30 mark to see the technique) Do this about 2-3 times, until the dough tightens up. Divide the dough into 6 even pieces and let it rest. Prepare a couple of baking sheets: either oil the pan or use parchment paper.
  5. Pour out a generous quantity of sesame seeds or what ever else you want to have appear on the outside of your burger.
  6. For each pattie, do a final stretch and fold, roll into a ball, press into the sesame seeds, gradually working the pattie until it assumes the size and shape of your ideal burger pattie. An egg white wash or brush with oil is optional and will result in a glistening top.  Place on the cookie sheet and cover with a damp towel. Turn on the oven to 450.
  7. Once they are all on the sheet, leave about 20 minutes with a damp towel on top (for this quantity of yeast. If you decided to go with a lot less yeast and a longer rising time, plan on up to an hour).
  8. Bake at 450 for 12 or so minutes. Do check the buns after 10 minutes as the time will change according to both your oven and how many buns you cook at once. They should register at least 190 degrees when done.
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Buns on parchment paper about to go in oven

The burgers (30  minutes if you are using mince; about 60 minutes if you are grinding raw meat yourself)

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The ‘burger factory’

Burgers are  really  sausages without skins. There are a lot of burger recipes out there that involve bread crumbs, flour, eggs and the like, but when you approach it like a sausage you get a really rich tasting and satisfying burger. I follow Michael Rulhman’s sausage recipe in Ratio as a base. If you use my sausage calculator  – see my blog on sausages – you can use it to adjust your ingredients and quantities. Here is a recipe for 6 x 100g patties:

Mix together:

  • 425g mince
  • 65g fat (i.e. total of 980g that is a combination of meat and fat. This can be bacon grease you have saved, chicken fat from soups, suet, even butter or coconut oil, though meat fats are preferable. Keep in mind there will be some fat already in the mince.)
  • 25g very finely diced onion (about a quarter of a small onion)
  • 8g salt
  • 1g (about 1/8 tsp) pepper
  • 13g pressed garlic (about 1 clove. More can be added.)
  • 60g red wine (about ¼  cup). Beer would work too – maybe a nice porter.

Mix thoroughly.

These quantities assume it’s according to taste and preference.  Typically, patties weigh in around 100g  which is slightly less than a quarter pound. But doing it yourself means that you can do whatever you want – though if you make them too thick and big you may have logistical issues with your bun, and risk them being uncooked on the inside and charred on the outside. I probably wouldn’t go less than 90g nor more than 150g. That all said, a 50g pattie makes a great breakfast sandwich slider, with eggs and cheese.

If you wish to get more creative or change up quantities, check out my sausage calculator

To freeze, shape the mix into patties, individually wrap in wax paper, put in freezer bag and then into the freezer. To defreeze, microwave to raw (1 minute for 1st pattie, 20-30 secs for each additional pattie,  spread out on a plate). AAAND they’re ready for the  bbq.

To serve fresh, cover and refrigerate until needed.

Lentil Burgers (about 1 hr, 40 minutes hands on)

For all the vegans in the crowd, my lentil burger recipe. This is based on a Chef Michael Smith recipe I have messed with, but its definitely different enough for me to call it my own.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • hot sauce/pepper/ to taste
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • optional: salsa to taste
  • Method
  1. cook lentils with 2 cups of water and a little salt
  2. cut and dice onion, saute in oil with a little salt and the herbs/spices
  3. grate 1 large carrot
  4. combine cooked lentils with carrots and onions and simmer, boiling down the extra liquid
  5. add other ingredients and keep simmering until oats have disintegrated and the mix is getting thick and sticky. ALWAYS keep stirring to prevent burning. The idea is to achieve the thick stickiness needed to hold the pattie together when cooking.
  6. shape into patties and refrigerate or freeze, or leave as a mix and form into patties right before cooking.

Freezing tip for burgers  – and anything else like this:

You know how frustrating it is to extract just one frozen pattie, or piece of fish, or bun or what have you from the package in the freezer? Here’s how to avoid that. Spread the wrapped  patties on a baking sheet and put that in the freezer for an hour, then bag them in sealed plastic bags. They will freeze in such a way that they will not stick together when you retrieve them.

Tomato ketchup (20 minutes)

Tomato ketchup is pretty easy.  It’s essentially tomato paste + vinegars, salts, sugars and flavorings. I usually make a batch of green tomato chutney each year, at the height of the green tomato season and for my ketchup I use a cup of that plus a  small 125 ml can of tomato paste. My blog on the chutney describes that preserve, and what I have done here is to distill that recipe so that you have measurements for 1 250 ml jar that you would combine with a single can of tomato paste.

Green tomato chutney 2012 (7)

setting up for green tomato chutney

Green tomato chutney: 1 single jar (the calculated weight is given, along with an approximation of how much of the fruit)

Ingredients

  • half a green or a fairly dry tomato (93g)
  • ¼ onion (46g)
  • ½  tart apple  – like a granny smith (46g)
  • 1 tbs raisins or currants (5g)
  • 1 clove of garlic mashed and pressed
  • 1 tsp of finely minced fresh ginger (1g). (really fresh good quality garlic and ginger powder can also be  used)
  • 5g salt
  • a pinch each of cloves & turmeric
  • 23g brown sugar
  • 28g vinegar

Method

If you want a jar of chutney, roughly chop the tomatoes, onion and apple using the pulse function of a food processor until they are the size and consistency you like. Add in the other ingredients. Leaving it for a week or two will help meld the flavors.

For the ketchup, puree all the fruit and vegetables, then add and mix in the sugar, vinegar, spices and a small 125ml can of tomato paste.

Relish (10 minutes)

Relish essentially is pureed pickles plus sugar. If you taste commercial relish you will see the truth of that very quickly. It’s also salty so there’s sweet, salt and vinegar and that’s why we love it so much.

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Pickles & sugar is all you need.

To prepare the relish, weigh out the pickles and then add 10% of the pickle  weight  in sugar and 10% of the pickle weight in the pickle vinegar brine.  Although there is already salt in the brine, I suggest adding a little more – to taste: 3% of the pickle weight. Using the pulse of your food processor, chop until it is the desired consistency. You can experiment with other additions: garlic, spices, apple come to mind.

An example of this would be: 300g pickles, 30g sugar, 30g pickle brine, 9g salt.

Mustard

Hot dog mustard – AKA yellow mustard (20 minutes)

I’ve been having a lot of fun with mustard lately as you can see in some of my other blogs. Recently I came across a recipe for hot dog mustard by Joshua Bousel. He has you mix yellow mustard powder with water, and add  salt, vinegar and some turmeric and garlic, then cook it briefly for about 5 minutes. The recipe here gives you almost a cup and it’s also weighed in grams which is the way I like to do business.

Ingredients (Joshua’s recipe with metric weights yielding a cup of mustard)

  • 150ml water
  • 35g dry ground mustard
  • 60g white distilled vinegar
  • 2g all purpose flour
  • 4g kosher salt
  • Large pinch turmeric
  • Pinch of garlic powder
  • Pinch of paprika

Method

  1. Place water, mustard, vinegar, flour, salt, turmeric, garlic powder, and paprika in a small saucepan over medium heat and whisk until smooth.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Allow mustard to cool, transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Dijon mustard (10 minutes, but it should have a week or two for the flavours to meld)

My standby basic Dijon mustard is as follows – but check my blog for other options

Ingredients

  • 75g (combination of) yellow mustard powder, crushed yellow mustard seed, crushed brown mustard seed. (I keep a coffee grinder for grinding spices and nothing else)
  • 75g apple juice
  • 75g apple cider vinegar
  • 3g salt

Method

Mix these together to yield a 250ml jar. It will be quite hot. If you want it calmer, put the mix in a pot and heat it up, tasting until the heat is at a level you prefer. Leave it at least overnight for the mustard to absorb the liquid.

Mayonnaise (10-20 minutes depending on how much persuasion the emulsion takes)

Some people love mayo on their burgers. For you, here’s mayo. This is Michael Ruhlman’s take on it, as described in his inspirational Ratio book.

This will yield 1 cup of mayo, so I usually double it as it is tricky and labour intense. You spend the same time and labour making a double batch.

Ingredients (1 cup mayo)

  • Beat in this exact order.
  • 1 egg yolk at room temperature
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp salt (but taste at the end)
  • 1 cup oil: You want a really mild almost tasteless oil, as it will impart whatever flavour it has to the mayo. DO NOT therefore use cheap, harsh  olive oil. My preference is grapeseed oil.

Method

Start with the largest bowl in your possession and a good big wisk. Have all ingredients prepared beforehand as once you start whisking you are committed to the end. Also strategize and position the bowl so that it is held in place while one hand whisks while the other pours. Some ideas about this are: sitting and wedging the bowl between your tummy and the table edge, or using a rolled towel to sit the bowl in.

Whisk until emulsified:

  • 1 large egg yolk at room temperature with 1 tsp water at room temperature. The successful beating of the water and egg yolk is critical to everything else that happens. If this does not emulsify, the rest of it won’t either. If this is proving difficult, make sure your egg is relatively fresh, and also that everything is at room temperature.
  • Keep whisking and add in this order:
  • lemon juice, vinegar, salt. Add these slowly, making sure your emulsion holds. (I like using both lemon juice and vinegar. It wants the lemony taste, but with a little vinegar kick. )
  • Add the oil in a slow stream to the whisk.
  • Optional: 1 tsp – or 2 of Dijon mustard. Indeed you can add whatever you like at this point to make your own unique artisan mayo.

If you mess it up, and it breaks, pour all the mayo into the oil cup, and start over. Add a teaspoon of water and another yolk and try again, whisking until emulsified. Slowly add in the broken mayo, whisking continuously.

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The assembly

Burger all done!

The reward

Well – That’s it. Sure it would be a massive undertaking to do all of this on one day. And you are also likely to be serving other stuff as well  -snacks, dips,  salads , desserts, etc. Just keep in mind that everything but the bread can – indeed should be – easily be prepared ahead of time, and the buns can be done while you are doing other mealtime prep.

Enjoy your burgers and all the praise & awe from your gathered friends!