Category Archives: Making Food

Lacto-fermented Garlic Carrots

Recently, I have been experimenting with lacto-fermentation.  What in the world is lacto-fermentation?  This is a way of processing your food so that it enhances it’s store-ability, and it’s digestibility.  Your body can better process the nourishment of the fermented food than pre-fermented foods.  This way of storage is superior to canning because:

  • You don’t have to worry about botulism.  Botulism is one of those scary things that can live in home canned foods.  Botulism is the last thing to die when we process our home-canned foods.  The other things that live in our food keep the Botulism from spreading too much.  Botulism also needs an anaerobic environment to proliferate.  So if you don’t kill all the nasty Botulism the when you process your food in your water bath or pressure canner, you are creating the perfect environment for these killer bacteria to take over your food.  This is the scariest part of being home canner. I still can, and will probably continue to can, but I respect canning, and the protocols of canning.  It can be life and death.  Lacto-fermenting is not life or death.
  • There is little or no heat needed for this processing.  My dad and my father-in-law have strong memories of a hot kitchen in July and August made even hotter by boiling water for the canner and boiling foods.  Canning produces a lot of heat.  (**TIP ALERT**I have some ways that I work around this for tomatoes: I freeze my tomatoes and can them when I have time and the weather is cooler.  That way it’s more comfortable and the tomatoes peel EASILY!!)
  • Canning can break down the nutrients in foods, lacto-fermenation enhances the nutrients.
  • You know all those probiotics that are super popular right now.  A 30-day supply can be over $40?  Yeah, these pale in comparison of the probiotics contained in the lacto-fermented foods.

Most folks’ gateway into lacto-fermenting is through sauerkraut.  Mine was through garlic carrots.  This is so easy and simple.

What you need:

  • Quart Glass Jar
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds Carrots
  • 2 tablespoons Sea Salt
  • 2 Cups of water
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Cabbage leaf
  1. Put 2 cups of water in a sauce pan, add 2 tablespoons of salt, and heat.  We’re doing this to combine the salt and the water, so it doesn’t have to be crazy hot.  Remove from the heat and let cool
  2. While the water is cooling, peel your 3 cloves of garlic and put them in the jar.
  3. Chop up your carrots in whatever way your like.  I chop mine up into quarters and then break that down into finger length pieces.  Picture when someone brings a veggie tray to a party.  The way those carrots look is what I go for (***TIP ALERT***NOT THE BABY CARROTS, NEVER USE BABY CARROTS, THEY ARE TREATED WITH CHLORINE AND THIS WILL NOT WORK).
  4. Place these carrots in the jar.

    I recommend using whole garlic gloves and not crushing them.

    I recommend using whole garlic gloves and not crushing them.

  5. With cooled salt water (this means it’s comfortable to the touch), cover the carrots and garlic.  It is really important that everything is covered here.
  6. To make sure that all of your veggies remain submerged, place your cabbage leaf on top. Carrots exposed to air will rot and not ferment.  Rotted food is not good for you.20141105_184741
  7. Cover with a lid and let sit in a warm environment (65-80 degrees) for 7 to 10 days.  Be sure you burp your jar daily.  This part I found to be really cool, and it lets you know your ferment is working.  When you unscrew the lid, lots of air bubble rush to the surface.  20141105_212416
  8. Now you’re in business.  You can eat your carrots right away or you can store them in a cool area such as your basement, root cellar or even fridge.

Super simple, Super Easy, Super Yummy.

 

What is Gluten?

There has been a lot of talk lately about being gluten free, and a lot of talk about how much better people feel after removing gluten from their diet.  This leads to the question, what is gluten and what does it do?  What purpose does it play in our food?

Gluten is a protein found in grains, with the highest amounts found in wheat.  The gluten in a flour acts a glue and also creates a chewy product.  Have you ever made flour wet just to have a sticky mess on your hands.  That stickiness is from the gluten. The gluten acts as a balloon to trap air bubbles as they form.  In fact, wheat flour is distinguished by the amount of gluten protein it contains.  These different types of flours are used for different foods.  Gluten in flour is measured as a percentage.  Clearly, the higher the percentage of gluten, the more gluten is the flour.

Wheat is the most common type of flour.  The most common type of wheat flour is All-purpose flour.  This is a medium gluten content flour at 12%.  As it has a medium gluten content, this is a good flour for most things.  It works for breads, cakes, and cookies.  Cooks who are really serious about their flour generally will use a flour that’s more attuned to the food they are making.

Bread flour has a high gluten content at about 14%.  This is used for making crusty, chewy breads.  More gluten equals more chewiness.  This can also be called a “high protein flour”.

For lighter cakes and pastries, a cake flour should be used.  Its gluten content is about 8%, far below the all purpose flour.  Cake flours are good for making delicate foods, such as light fluffy cakes.

Finally, we have pastry flour.  This flour has a bit more gluten in it than the more delicate cake flour and has a gluten content at about 9.5%.  This type of flour is perfect for muffins and biscuits.

So high gluten content flours yield a chewy crusty bread.  It is a heavier flour.  Lower gluten flours will yield a lighter and fluffier more delicate pastry.

There are several other aspects besides flour that affects the gluten in your recipes.

1) Water.  Without water, there is no gluten.  Think about how light and fluffy flour is until you introduce water.  Getting the right amount of chewiness requires the right amount of water.  If you want a flaky food, such as a pie crust, add a little bit of water.  If you add too much water to flour, you get too much gluten which will create a tough crust.  There is a tipping point for your gluten.  A fully hydrated dough will have the highest amount of gluten activity.  Once the dough is fully hydrated, any liquid past that point will cause the gluten to weaken (think brownies and cakes).

2) Dough Handling.  Handling a dough will organize the gluten proteins.  The more you stretch, mix, kneed the dough, the stronger you are making the protein.  That’s why you want to knead bread dough for a number a minutes, while you want to handle pie crust minimally.

3) Other ingredients. Fats will break the the gluten proteins down.  Also, once the gluten granules are coated with fats, they can no longer absorb as much liquid.  When they can’t absorb as much liquid, the gluten is not created.

Sugar binds up water, and inhibits the gluten formation

Salt makes gluten stickier and stronger.

These are the basics of gluten.  What it is, what it does and how it changes based on other aspects of the environment.  Whether you are gluten intolerant or not, it’s always interesting to understand the in’s and out’s of your food.

Maple Syrup – What to do When it has been Stored Improperly

Maple syrup is delicious.  It is a wonderful sugar replacement that has a bonus of added minerals.  It can be rather expensive, so I save money in the long haul by purchasing large quantities at a time.

This is a case of learn from what I did wrong.  Yes, I did this wrong.  I bought a gallon of maple syrup.  I put some of it in a smaller bottle for easy pour and I left the remaining syrup in my room temperature pantry.  DO NOT DO THIS!  When I refilled the smaller bottle, a puff escaped the container which looked like brown smoke.

This was mold spores that grew. These mold spores can cause life long breathing and lung disorders.  So now I had 3/4 of a gallon of maple syrup that was bad.  That is a lot of money to throw down the drain.  Luckily, maple syrup can easily be re-pasteurized in your own home.  Simply take the maple syrup and run it through a cheesecloth, and then boil it.  This will sterilize the maple syrup and you can now use it.20141128_104745[1]

When storing the excess maple syrup, store it in the freezer or in the fridge (as says the instructions on the side of the bottle, which I didn’t notice when I first bought maple syrup).  I have mine stored in mason jars in the freezer, but transfer it to a smaller maple syrup container (which is kept in the refrigerator) for ease of pouring.  With maple syrup’s high sugar content, it will not freeze solid in the freezer.  This means you do not need to leave time to defrost your maple syrup if you run out of your syrup in the fridge.20141128_105248[1]

I hope in sharing my mistake, I can prevent you from making it.  And if you already did make it, I can help you fix it.

A bonus food safety tip I learned tonight from a friend: Never wash your meat (that includes your turkey!).  Wash your hands.  There is no way to wash off the bacteria from your turkey.  The only safe was is to cook it thoroughly.  (That means 165 degrees F, and check that at 3 places – the thickest place in the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh).  You can find these details and more at http://www.foodsafety.gov/. Following these tips can help prevent you from hosting a salmonella dance party at your dinner party.

 

Everlasting Potato Rolls: A Case for Real Food

Halloween is over, but I have a scary story for you.

It all started two days ago.  I decided to clean the top of my refrigerator off.  The top of my fridge is where we store cookies, lunchboxes, fruit leather, tissue boxes, my brewing kombucha and bread.  And the horror story begins.  As you can tell, I need to add some organization into my home; however, this is not about my organizational challenges.  When I was cleaning off the top of the fridge, I came across one very unexpected thing.  A bag that contained two potato rolls that we bought back in August.

This is the tag of on the rolls.  The rolls were over 3 months old!!!

This is the tag of on the rolls. The rolls were over 3 months old!!!

This would be your average kitchen cleaning horror story if it was moldy and disgusting.  It was not. It was a nice as the day we bought it.  One roll was still soft.  When I bake bread, the bread will last 3 to 5 days before going moldy.  But this bread lasted 3 months with only slight hardening.

Potato rolls which "expired" three months ago.

Potato rolls which “expired” three months ago.

How does your body digest these things?  What is even in the rolls?  I looked at the ingredient list, and it was a list of chemicals with multiple syllables.  I could list it here, but please take my word that is was long and requires a degree in Chemistry to decipher.  Chris and I don’t even feel comfortable feeding this to the chickens.

Real homemade bread is one of the most perishable items in your kitchen.  However, these rolls have been modified so much that they lasted over three months without even a hint of mold.  This means that even the mold finds this franken-roll to be totally unappetizing.  This unintended experiment solidified my resolve to eat real food with real ingredients.  Thus concludes the horror of the everlasting potato roll.

Back to Basics: Beans

I am going to start a series within my blog that outlines the basics of the basics.  Some folks will cook at home, but what they cook is convenience foods.  So for example: using Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice, Instant Mashed Potatoes, canned chicken broth, or canned beans from the store.  These things are not that hard to make from scratch, but there can be an intimidation factor.  A “I don’t know where to start factor”.  I’m here to hold your hand.  I want to show you how easy some of these things can be.  It’s true, it will take a little extra planning on your part, and a little more time, but the outcome will be a more nutritious and many times less expensive way to make your food.

Being able to make these things from scratch is also good for long term storage.  I can store lots of dried beans which I have purchase for a very long time quite easily.  A lot of people who are “Prepper’s” or “Survivalists” will stock up on dried items such as rice and beans.  But what good are they if you don’t know how to make them.  Aside of ease of storage, here are a few more reason you may want to make your beans from dried beans:

  1. Much less expensive: a pound of organic dried kidney beans cost me $2.04.  A pound of dried beans, once cooked, will equal over 4 cans of beans.  I found cans of organic canned red kidney beans for over $2.00 a pound.  So $2 of dried beans and a little bit of planning will yield $8 worth of canned beans.  That’s a 400% return on investment.
  2. They aren’t stored in questionable cans.
  3. Less waste.  When you buy dried beans, they generally come in a plastic bag.  I then transfer my beans to a glass jar.  So I’m only disposing of the plastic bag.  When you buy canned beans, you are disposing of the can.  While the can is recyclable, recycling is not a zero sum game.  We are using fossil fuels to transport this recyclable material and to process the material.  While recycling is better than putting your garbage in a landfill, not creating any waste is the best way for us and for our planet.
  4. It is rewarding to have the knowledge that you can make dried beans.

I’m using organic dried red kidney beans.  Each type of bean has different tastes and textures. This is where you can experiment and see what works beans work best for you.

Here’s where the planning comes in, the night before you want your beans (if you want beans for Thursday night’s dinner, do this on Wednesday night before bed), put your beans in bowl and add water so that the water is covering the beans by one to two inches.  How much should you make?  I say make a BUNCH. **TIP ALERT*** You can freeze the extras, and they stay in the freezer for up to 6 months.   But for a recipe, I’ve found that about 2/3 of a cup of dried beans translates to one 15.5 ounce can of beans.  Different beans vary on this, but this is a good rule of thumb as most recipes that require beans do not need exact amounts (Like my super yummy chili I’ll share with you soon!).

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When you wake up in the morning, drain the water off of the beans and refill the bowl and the beans with fresh water.

Beans that have been soaked overnight, before I changed the water.

Beans that have been soaked overnight, before I changed the water.

About an hour and half before dinner, strain the soaked beans and put them in a pot with enough fresh water to cover them by about two inches.  Put the pot on the stove and turn your stove on medium high.

Let the water come to a boil, stirring  regularly.  If your water boils off to the point that some of your bean become exposed, add more water to your pot.  In about an hour, test a bean.  How do you test a bean?  Fish it out of the boiling water, let it cook and taste it. Is it done, is it the texture you like?  If so, you are done.  Pour the beans through a strainer, and use them for your recipe, or put them in a container to be put in the freezer.  Simple!!

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Herbs and Spices: What’s the difference?

I love to cook.  When I cook things, I get to add the flavor profile I enjoy the most by adding herbs and spices (specifically cumin, a favorite of mine).  Generally when discussing cooking, these two terms get thrown together: Herbs and Spices.  I want to know: what is the difference?

According to the definition found at dictionary.com an herb is:

a flowering plant whose stem above ground does not become woody.

Likewise, at dictionary.com, the definition of spice is:
any of a class of pungent or aromatic substances of vegetable origin,as pepper, cinnamon, or cloves, used as seasoning, preservatives, etc.
Well, this gives us a place to start.  But unless you are intimately aware of the plant form of your seasonings, these definitions are not very useful. It’s true, we all know certain herbs that grow in our garden; such as basil or parsley.
A general rule of thumb is to think about the color of the seasoning you’re using.  If it’s green, and leafy, it’s probably an herb.  If you have it growing in your garden and you use the leaves or the green parts (as in chives), it is probably an herb.  Examples of herbs include: oregano, sage, rosemary, cilantro (the leafy  part), and thyme.  While oregano, rosemary, and thyme have woody stems, we are using the leafy green part for our culinary creations.
Spices are more pungent than herbs, and come from other parts of the plant.
For example:
Cumin – seed
cinnamon – bark
ginger – root
cardamom – seed
Pepper(corns)  – fruit of the pepper plant
Cloves – flower pod
Some plants are both an herb and a spice.  For example: Dill.  Dill weed is an herb which come from the plant’s green stem and leaves.  Dill Seed is a spice.
So while this won’t change any of my cooking habits, some of my curiosity has been satisfied.

 

Easy Egg Replacement

So with the advent of our egg desert, which is populated by 20 chickens (seems like we should have oodles of eggs), not only is Chris experiencing an egg shortage in his breakfast, but I am also experiencing a lack of eggs for my baking and cooking.  Normally, I would put my baking project on hold, or find something else to make, but I had a request for cookies from a colleague.  This colleague has done a lot to help me, and cookies are a very small request that he specifically asked for.  We also had my nephew’s birthday party, and I wanted to bring something to the party.  So I had to figure something out.

I had 3 eggs, and I wanted to make two different batches of cookies: Snicker doodles and Chocolate Chip.  Each batch requiring two eggs.  I realize this is becoming a bit of a math problem, so I will cut to the chase.  I needed four eggs and I only had three.  What is a baker on a mission to do?

I had a some options:

  1. Only make one batch of cookies
  2. Make two half batches of each kind of cookie
  3. Stop everything I was doing, get myself and my two-year old ready to go in a car and drive all the way to the store for some sub-par eggs, laid by hens who were treated inhumanely
  4. Use an egg substitute and cross my fingers that it worked.

Being that I’m me (and what a wonderful thing to be. ~Dr. Seuss), options one and two are out of the question.  As far as option 3 is concerned, I don’t think I’ll ever buy eggs from the grocery store again.   I would buy eggs from our farming neighbors, but they are all Mennonite, and therefore closed on Sundays, and Sunday is when I ran into my lack of egg dilemma.  By process of elimination, we see that Option four is the way to go.

I used a VERY SIMPLE (Yay, simplicity is the name of the game!!) mixture that includes only water and ground flax seeds.   This will work for your baking projects, but clearly will  not work for something like scrambled eggs.

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Mix one Tablespoon of the Ground Flax seed.  This can also be called Flax seed meal.  Also please store your ground flax seed in the fridge so that it maintains all of its healthy oils and they do not go rancid.

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Add  3 tablespoons of water, and mix to incorporate.

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Let sit for at least 5 minutes. You will notice the mixture turning gelatinous.  This mixture will replace one egg.

I believe that eggs are VERY good for you, so I don’t want to extol the health benefits of using this mixture over eggs.  However, flax seeds are really good for you too!  They are high in fiber, and have omega-3 fatty acids (those are those acids that are good for brain health!).

So if you are ever in a jam due to lack of eggs, give this method a try!  I’m glad I did! YUM!

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Applesauce – Easy, Sugar-Free, Delicious

Applesauce is another “recipe” that is so ridiculously easy and simple that is almost embarrassing to post it.  However, embarrassingly simple is still simple, and that’s the name of my game!  My husband and child love applesauce.  I’ve actually made and canned over 3 gallons of it so we can enjoy it all through the winter and through until the next apple season.

One half bushel (a peach basket), made about a gallon and a half or 6 quart jars of sauce.  Once made, you can freeze or can it.  While canning is out of the scope of this blog at this point, I processed the quart jars in a water bath for 20 minutes, leaving about an inch of head space.

Here are the nuts and bolts of how to make your own applesauce:

Step One:  Select your apples.  I strongly suggest you select a nice vareity of apples.  Include sweet and tart apples so that the sauce has a deeper taste profile, while still ensuring you have enough sweet apples so that adding sugar is unnecessary.  This is another example of where knowing your farmer is extremely helpful.  My husband bought apples for me.  He walked up to a stand at the farmer’s market where we get a lot produce, and told the woman who owns the stand that he wanted an apple mix to make applesauce.  She put together a mixed bag for us.  And it turned out wonderfully.

Step Two: Quarter your apples, remove the seeds, and place the apple in a large pot.  You can keep the skins on.  In fact, red skins will lend to a beautifully pink colored applesauce.  Only fill your pot about 3/4 full.  That way you have room to stir.  I actually  needed to use two pots for this amount of sauce. 20140928_153935 As the apples cook down, you can add more.  Add a little apple Juice (maybe a quarter cup) so that the apples have a little liquid to cook.  As the apples cook down, they will make their own liquid.  Please note: you can use water in place of the juice.   Turn the stove on Medium, stirring periodically.

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Step 3: Continue to cook and stir the apples until they become the consistency of …   …applesauce.   Stirring is really important so that you don’t burn apples to the bottom of your pan.  (Quite frankly, out of three batches, I burned two.  This is not a big deal for your applesauce, it just takes a little lot more work to clean)

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Step 4: Now, run your apples through a food mill.  Applesauce is what comes out the other side.

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At this point you can freeze it, can it or eat it.  We like it just the way it is, but feel free to add cinnamon or nutmeg or any other spice you may like.

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How super easy was this?  When making some of these recipes, I am shocked how simple they are.  One ingredient and lots of yum!!

How to Make Apple Cider Vinegar

If you are making anything that requires you to peel and core your apples, and those apples are organic, try making some homemade apple cider vinegar.  It’s super easy, and I think it’s pretty dang cool.

This is so simple and easy, it reminds me of the peanut butter post.  But it’s worth discussing, as I don’t think making apple cider vinegar is intuitive.

First take you apple scraps and put them in a glass jar.  These scraps are the peels and cores.  I compost the moldy or rotten pieces.  Stuff as much of the scraps as you can in the jar.    The amount of scraps produced by a batch of apple butter was enough to fill up two quart jars.

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Add about 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to each jar.  Make sure the vinegar is “live” and has the mother.  One that I know works as a good started is Braggs brand.  I have heard that you can do this with out the starter, but I have not tried it.

Fill the jar the rest of the way up with water and either loosely cap, or cover with a cloth and rubber band.  Place in a dark location away from extreme temperatures.  If the temperature is comfortable for you, than it’s fine for your jars.  In warmer temperatures makes the process quicker, cooler temperatures cause the process to take longer.

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Check on after about a week, then check every few days.  You may see some foaming or other growth.  Just spoon that off and compost it.  It’s fine.

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Check it every other day and taste the acidity.  Once it gets acidic enough for your palate, strain the apple/vinegar mix through a sieve and into a glass storage jar.  Those two quarts of apple scraps gave me a quart of vinegar.

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Put a lid on it and store at room temperature.  Congratulations! You just made homemade apple cider Vinegar!

Easy Crock Pot Apple Butter

I love fall!  Apples, pumpkins, and hot beverages.  This past weekend, we went apple picking.   Jaxson led the way to find the best apple trees:

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We brought home a half bushel of apples, and I got started making apple butter.  It’s quite simple (yay), and I would like to share with you how I did it.

First I put some Willie Nelson on.  This step is optional, but highly recommended.  Next, peel, core and quarter your washed apples.  Fill up your crock pot to the top. The apples will cook down in volume.

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If the apples you are using are organic, keep your peels and cores, I’ll show you how to make apple cider vinegar out of your scraps.  Very cool, right? Anyway, back to our butter.

Now add your spices.  Add what spices you like.  I used 2 teaspoons of cinnamon (bc I like cinnamon), 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  I also added about a half of cup of sugar.  If you have a lot of sweet apples (yellow or red delicious) you may not need to add any sugar.  If you have mostly tart, as mine were, sugar is a necessity.

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Now put your crock pot on low, and let it cook overnight.  I started this at 8 pm, at 10 pm I gave it a stir.  Then I went to bed.  By 7 am the next  morning it was ready (kind of).  I stirred it, then I tasted it and it was WAY, WAY too tart.  So I added another cup of sugar and let it cook.  I recommend using a mix of sweet and tart apples, instead of all tart apples, like I did.  That way you won’t have to use any sugar.

You can also add more spices at this time.  Remember you can always add more spice,  you can never take it away.  So add a little spice, taste, and reevaluate.

Then I canned it.  If you are not into canning, then you can freeze it.  If you are into canning ( I would like more experience before I post up instructions):  process half-pints and pints for 10 minutes and process Quarts for 15 minutes in your water bath canner at 6,000 feet or lower.  Any higher, add another five minutes to the processing times.

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Enjoy your tower of glorious apple butter!