Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dirty socks?... No! It's fermentation!

I don't know if it's a collective consciousness thing or what, but I've noticed that people are fascinated by talk of fermentation. So I thought I'd share my weekly lacto-routine to encourage you all to experiment with this ancient, easy, fun and nourishing method of food preservation. I try to ferment at least one vegetable and one dairy product every week in addition to my ongoing kombucha project.

Let's start with kombucha; once you secure your 'mother' mushroom, or 'scoby' nothing could be easier. My little brother does this, and if he can do it, anyone can! He gave me my starter mushroom, but go online to find one if none of your friends are hip to kombucha.

Okay, so basically you're just going to make tea; start with three quarts of good water brought to a boil, then dissolve a cup of white sugar (it works best with white sugar/I use organic cane sugar from the co-op bulk bins) add four black tea bags (again, it works best with black tea/I use the whole foods organic black tea as you get eighty bags for under $4) turn off the heat and let it cool completely. Then remove tea bags and pour into a gallon sized glass jar (I get mine at the co-op, but I heard they're available at Smart and Final and even at Wallie World) and place the mushroom on top. Add one half cup of kombucha for a starter, then cover with a clean dish towel and secure with a rubber band. Place in your cupboard and wait seven to ten days. Taste everyday after, until your kombucha reaches the desired balance of sweet versus sour. You can then pour into individual serving bottles and drink immediately, or you can place the bottles back in the cupboard for a few days to increase the fizz factor. I tend to drink mine straight from the original fermentation jar, as it goes too fast in my house for the bottle step.

You will notice that your original mother has made a 'baby' underneath herself; this is your new mother for another jar. Your original mother will continue to make kombucha for a very long time, so as you see, this is an exponential process; hence, we all have mushrooms to share with friends and family. If you end up with more than you can give away, you can either store them in the fridge, or they make a great addition to your compost pile.

I keep six gallons going at once, but your only limit is the space you have to ferment them. I've noticed that my kombucha has gotten better and better since I started last spring; I think the culture matures over time.

Use a reasonable degree of kitchen cleanliness, and if your mother develops mold, throw her out and start with a fresh one.

Next let's talk dairy; I'm crazy for dairy cause I'm a midwestern born gal. I make both 'farmer' cheese and creme fraiche on a regular basis; the farmer cheese is a cross between cream cheese and cottage cheese as far as I can tell, and the creme fraiche is like a lighter, sweeter version of sour cream.

Okay, for farmer cheese, I start with a half gallon of raw whole milk which I put in a two quart Ball jar, tightly capped in the cupboard for two to four days until the curd separates from the whey (you'll be able to see this if you check every day). Then I line a fine meshed strainer with a dishtowel and place over a large enough bowl to catch the liquid as it drains. Pour the contents into the strainer, cover with the edges of the towel and let sit on the counter until the whey stops draining (many hours). Then transfer the curds/cheese to a jar and put in the fridge until you're ready to season it, and pour the whey into another jar and store in the fridge for use as a starter for your fermented vegetables. Ta da! Easy.

I like to season my cheese with finely minced shallots, herbs and edible flowers; confetti cream cheese! It's great on toast or bagels, but my favorite use is for stuffing squash blossoms to batter in egg and arrowroot and fry in the skillet. Yum.

So let's move on to the creme fraiche. Start with a pint of raw cream, transfer to a pint sized Ball jar and stir in one tablespoon of buttermilk (store bought works fine). Place the lid on tight and set on top of your fridge for twenty-four hours. That's it! Now put it in the fridge where it will set up even more, and use it on everything, especially those fried squash blossoms! It's traditional in France to stir a tablespoon into a bowl of soup at the table (you don't want to cook it, or you will kill all the enzymes that you fermented it for) and I don't eat scrambled eggs without it anymore. Fish tacos are a natural. So good.

Well, let's see, now we have all this whey; what do we do with it? I know! Let's make sauerkraut. I like to use red cabbage because it's pretty, but any cabbage will do of course. Grate the whole head (some people cut it with a knife, but I like it finer than that) and place in a large, flat baking dish. Sprinkle with one tablespoon sea salt (I like pink Himalayan) and four tablespoons of your groovy homemade whey! Now pound the whole thing together with a meat pounder until it's really juicy (about ten minutes is right) then squeeze it into a quart sized Ball jar, making sure to push it all down until the liquid rises to the top and covers it all. Leave a couple of inches for expansion, and screw the lid on tight. Now put it in the cupboard for three days, then transfer it to the top shelf of the fridge.

You can eat it now, but it will get better and better the longer you wait (I can never wait). Use it as a garnish on your plate a couple of tablespoons at a time to help with digestion, or top your hot dog or reuben sandy with it. Oh yeah baby! And did I mention fish tacos...

The same method works for other vegetables, and I imagine the sky is the limit, but ginger carrots are a big hit. Just grate four cups of carrots, one tablespoon of fresh ginger, add one tablespoon of sea salt and four tablespoons of your trusty whey, then pound, pound, pound until the liquid runs (less time than the sauerkraut usually). Do the same thing as the sauerkraut from here on out. I like this one with eggs in the morning, or mixed into a salad or wrap, or just shoveled into my hungry mouth straight out of the jar. Good.

I suppose it would be even better with a bit of 'hot' so maybe some minced peppers mixed in with the ginger? Or garlic? I don't think you can go wrong.

Whew. So now you've got a fridge full of yummy, ready to eat chow. Think how easy dinner will be if you cook a steak, burger, fish fillet, chicken breast, whatever, and then all you have to do is reach in the fridge for the veg... too slick!

Oops, we mustn't forget the humble beet (my personal favorite rooty thing). Fermented beets are truly a thing of beauty and gastronomic wonder.

Start with a dozen or so medium beets, and bake them at 300 degrees until they're soft (a few hours) Now just peel, cut into strips and place in a quart jar. Push them down and cover them with one tablespoon salt, four tablespoons whey, and one cup of good water or enough to cover the beets; make sure to leave space for expansion. Cover tightly, and leave at room temperature for three days, then transfer to top shelf of the fridge. Voila! You won't believe how good these taste.

So you see, fermenting is easy. People with a whole lot less in the way of a proper 'kitchen' have been doing it forever... well for a very long time anyway. It's a simple, elegant and economical way to introduce beneficial bacteria and enzymes into your gut for help with digestion and assimilation of nutrients. It adds that necessary 'sour' taste to meals that include animal food. But mostly, it looks beautiful on the plate, and tastes wonderful in your mouth, so feel free to experiment and indulge your fancy.

Happy fermenting,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanks for the shout out foodie freaks!

Brian (and by that I mean Elaine of course) Christy, Millie, Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Recovering Vegetarian, thank you all for your comments on my last two blogs! Wow, I feel like a rock star because someone actually read what I wrote! I must make a note to self not to get too big for my britches and let all this power go to my head.

Of course it's embarrassing to admit that I'm thanking you in 'blog' because I can't figure out how to send a comment on my own blog page... but I already confessed to being a 'noob' so I guess it comes as no surprise to any of you.

A shout right back out to you in Georgia Elaine, and kuddos on all those birthday treats you whipped up for your teenager's party. If you've 'slipped a cog' don't worry, it appears you (like myself) are in good company; so many awesome real food bloggers out there are floating into my field of vision these last couple of weeks. Who knew?

Christy you crunchy gal, at least your nuts are 'certified' eh?

Mousse Millie, I'd be more than happy to share my liver concoction with you, but I'd be hard pressed to call it a recipe... more like a "Ha! I laugh in the face of danger-experiment with organs"; always good though. I just throw (okay, gently place) a couple, or a few, or a lot of livers in the blender, saute up some minced shallots and fresh thyme in butter and then de-glaze the pan with a little brandy, or Marsala, or Irish whiskey for that matter; shoot, I've used my husbands stout before in a pinch! I transfer that mix to the blender along with about four, or five or six eggs, about a cup of cream (oh yeah babies!) or milk and butter if that's all I have, and around a quarter cup of arrowroot powder, salt, pepper, fresh ground nutmeg (but not too much, or you might be seeing rainbow colored roosters doing back flips off the end of your spatula!) and sometimes a splash or two (okay, big shakes, and probably five or six) of hot sauce. Blend on high, pour into buttered ramekins and place in a water bath in the oven at about 350 degrees for an hour... y'know... ish. Yummmmmmm...

Kitchen Kop Kelly! First let me say how much I enjoy your blog... I love your blog! Secondly, I'm in whole-heart-ed agreement about our farmer heros! Speaking of which, here is the link to my favorite organic farm here in San Diego: http://www.milpaorganica.com Farmer Barry says he's all about growing people, and having been a lucky 'friend of the farm' for almost a year now, I've come to believe him; I'm a different person than I was when I made that first visit to La Milpa.

As for you, you Recovering Vegetarian you! Drop me a line when you'll be in the area, and I'll meet your at the market for some serious animal food shopping, YES!

Well, I guess that covers everyone so far. I want to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to stop by and share with me; I feel like I know you already. Let's do lunch!



Sunday, November 22, 2009

That ain't turkey scratch kiddo!

We picked up our Thanksgiving turkey from Curtis Womach at the Hillcrest farmer's market in San Diego this morning; it's lovely (if a dead bird can be lovely). He raised it the way he raises the chickens we buy from him weekly; outdoors, pecking the ground, soaking up sunshine, sometimes roosting in the apple trees in the orchard where they live and die. He feeds them a frightfully expensive organic poultry mash, and of course they have access to all the little wormies and grubs they can stuff their beaks with (which means they're richer in fat soluble vitamins than birds raised only on feed).

When you buy a bird from Curtis, you also have the option of accepting a plastic zipper baggie stuffed with heads, feet, hearts, necks, and livers; which I always do. You have to wait a little longer, as he packs the goodies to order "I'll take as many livers as you can part with today Curtis, and some extra feet would be nice. Oh, you have a rooster head? Cool, yeah, I'll take that too!". This leads to some interesting conversations and recipe exchanges in the line.

I've learned that Curtis raises 'slow growing' poultry varieties, which means that they take longer to come to market size, and in the meantime develop their flavor and nutrient stores. These birds were breed for tastiness and hardiness, not size. Naturally, it costs more to raise them because they eat a lot of feed while they're growing at a slower rate, but they bear very little resemblance to the genetic freaks (that can't even stand up because their breasts are so large) the industrial outfits pawn off to uneducated consumers; the Pamela Anderson breed is very popular right now... sexy. Curtis' birds can afford to be 'straight edge' because they're naturally healthy eating all that organically grown and wild foraged food and getting lots of exercise, fresh air and sunshine... oh yeah, and probably sex too.

When it comes time to bring an end (albeit an early one) to their healthy, happy, sexy existence, this is done in a humane and careful manner by Curtis himself; who would possibly respect the animals during the slaughtering process more than the one who raised the birds from chicks? He eviscerates them by hand in a meticulous fashion because the innards are not discarded like they they would be in a commercial operation, but rather offered to his customers.

I typically cut my chicken down the middle and roast one half for Sunday dinner, and use the other half (along with the heads, feet, necks and innards) to make a huge pot of stock for risotto, soup bases, sauces and such. The meat falls off the carcass after about an hour and a half of simmering, which I then collect out of the pot (returning the bones to continue simmering for another 24 hours or so) to use for tacos, chicken salad, soup, etc. throughout the week. The livers I use to make a version of 'meat mousse' that my family devours on toast almost daily. If I don't get around to making mousse, I just chop the liver finely and fry it up in bacon grease to mix with scrambled eggs... a little hot sauce and yum! He also offers a discount on a dozen deep yellow-yolked eggs when you purchase a bird, so all in all, $15 or $20 will feed you for an entire week if you're thrifty and use everything.

Oftentimes he brings along his two adorable sons who run a little side business under the table (literally) selling everything from giant pine cones and eagle feathers, to wallets made out of hemp, as well as entertaining the customers waiting in line with that sweet and earnest Womach charm.

It's a seriously high demand vocation for Curtis (no doubt also an exercise in patience and faith for his wife) and an arguably expensive grocery budget choice for his customers, but having come to know and respect the integrity he brings to his work this last year, I can't bring myself to buy chicken from the grocery store anymore. Even the (still expensive, though not quite as expensive) organic, 'free-range' chickens (and turkeys) at Whole Foods pale by comparison in terms of flavor and overall quality.

So it is with a grateful heart and a hearty appetite that sixty or so families here in San Diego, blessedly, mine included, will slice into their locally pastured turkey, and give thanks for the Womach family and the vision, dedication and labor of love they live daily. We are lucky pilgrims indeed.



Friday, November 20, 2009

Such a blogger noob!

Blogging. Who knew? Not me. I'm the last (or maybe second to the last) to know anything about the internet... or computers... or techie stuff in general; which is weird, because all four of my sons are serious computer geeks. Lately however, I've become acquainted with several 'foodie' blogs (you know, the whole Julie and Julia thing) and now I'm hooked.

The serious ones talk about things like kidney fat, and lacto-fermented vegetables. They wax poetic about sprouted flours and coconut oil for baking (leaf lard for pie crusts... of course). They discuss in detail, how to tell if your olive oil is of the 100% variety. They bandy about names like Sally Fallon and Joel Salatin.

My husband says I'm probably one in three point two million people who spent today rendering their own beef tallow. I'm blushing, because I'm not sure if I should be proud or grossly embarrassed, but it's true... I did. I put up a quart of sauerkraut and made six quarts of kombucha too. Ugh.

The kitchen has become my science lab, and I can't seem to get enough (except of dishes). I think my friends gossip that I've slipped a nut or something, which is why I thought it about time to reach out into cyberspace and try to connect with my own kind.

So, if you're out there rendering beef tallow, or simmering chicken stock (heads and feet too, of course) if you're moussing up liver, or separating raw milk into curds and whey, and if you spend more time with the farmers at your local farmer's market than you do with your friends and family combined... please, for the love of all things holy... drop me a line!