Archive for the ‘Foodstuffs’ Category

Pickling: And How!

I love pickles. I can easily sit down and eat a whole jar of pickled asparagus (provided it’s a small jar) much to my husband’s dismay.

A couple weeks ago I was searching for applesauce recipes when completely by accident I started to find DIY pickle recipes. It was kind of random, but I was intrigued. You’ll get the applesauce story later, but for now let’s talk about pickling.

From what I can understand there are two ways to pickle veggies: Lacto-fermentation and Cheating.  I tried both…FOR SCIENCE.

Lacto-fermentation:

This is the pro-biotic way, and as such appealed to that part of my brain that keeps nagging me to eat healthy. Essentially, as with making yogurt, you want to create an environment were good bacteria can thrive, and as break down your foodstuffs in a controlled way that has many health benefits. Instead of letting harmful buggies rot your food, you let the good ones go nuts!

You will need:

*A jar with a lid
*Sea Salt (iodized will make your brine a little cloudy, but is otherwise fine)
*Your favorite herbs and spices
*Filtered Water
*Veggies

And how:

1) Wash your jar in hot soapy water.  I re-used a salsa jar the first time, so don’t feel like you need to go buy anything special.  This canning jar was bought at Value Village.

2) Prepare your veggies: Wash produce in cold water and cut to fit in your jar. You should be able to leave about 1 to 1.5 inches between veggies and the top of your jar.

Prep!

3) Put all your seasonings and veg in your jar. For this batch I used about 1 tbsp each of dill, peppercorns and coriander seeds, about half a clove of garlic, and a pinch of chili pepper flakes.  You can adjust this to taste or just add your favourite spices.  I’ve seen recipes that call for everything from fennel to cinnamon!

Just to be on the safe side, I trimmed off the ends of my cukes. Apparently bits of stem can contribute to mushiness.

4) Create your brine by dissolving about 1.5 teaspoons of sea salt to every cup of filtered water. Some recipes recommend adding a bit of whey to jumpstart things:  just take some of that liquid off the top of your yogurt (plain! Always plain!). It’s not going bad, it’s just the whey separating out, and it’s full of the good bacteria we want in here.

Science Notes: Coriander floats!

5) Add enough brine to cover the top of your veggies. If your veggies float up to the surface..well, I just added some extra seasoning on top to coat them.

6) Close up the jar and store it in a warm, dark place.  As with my yogurt, I hedged my bets with an electric blanket on low.

Every day we're bubbling bubbling!

You should see bubbles forming and pressure building in your jar after a couple days.  That means it’s working and the buggies are doing their job!  If your jar seals well, open it once in a while to let off the pressure.  Once it’s stopped making bubbles, you should be done!  Recipes vary on how long you should leave them, but I found that 5-7 days usually does the trick.  The longer they sit, the more flavour will develop!

...and we're pickled. It's ok, it's Friday.

Apparently adding a grape or oak leaf to your jar will help keep your pickles crunchy.  I can’t vouch for this but the internet seems to think it works pretty well.  Something about tannins.  Mine worked out fine!

Cheating:

Mostly, pickles are fermented as above then stored in a vinegar solution.  But you can do quickie “Refrigerator Pickles” where you skip right to the vinegar stage.  They won’t have all the probiotic goodness, but they’re also ready overnight, which appeals to my sense of impatience.

You will need:

*2 and 1/4 cups of Vinegar
*3/4 cup of Sea or Kosher Salt
*Veggies
*Jar with lid
*Seasonings

And how:

1) Dissolve salt into vinegar by stirring over low heat.

2) Cut your veggies to fit your jars.  Wash in cold water.

3) Pack veggies into jars and add your seasonings.  I used the same mix as the first recipe, but feel free to personalize it!

4) Pour vinegar mixture over your veg so that it covers the ends.

5) Close up your jar and refrigerate for 12 hours.

If you prefer sweet pickles, replace the salt with sugar.  Personally I hate sweet pickles, but I tried making a batch and they went over well with Brother and Roommate.  You can also replace a 3/4 cup of the White Vinegar with Apple Cider Vinegar for a milder taste.

And that's how it's done!

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On the Making of my Own Yogurt

I am really struggling for yogurt puns.  All I can think of is the dude from Spaceballs.  Moichandising!

So now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive right to it:  Making your own yogurt is super easy, and here’s how.

You will need:

*Plain Yogurt
*Milk
*A Pot
*A Container that is neither metal or plastic (this and the pot should be capable of holding 1 quart of liquid)
*A Kitchen Thermometer

1) Go pick up a little thing of plain probiotic yogurt.  What you want here is something for which the ingredients read “Milk, bacterial cultures,”  period.  No flavours, added sugars or preservatives.  You don’t need a lot, so go ahead and get an expensive brand.  You will also need just over a quart of milk from whatever animal and in whatever fat percentage you want.  Full fat, skim… it’s all good!

2) Mix two tablespoons of yogurt and two tablespoons of milk in a small dish.  Set aside.

3) Heat 1 quart (32 ounces) of milk to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius).  Do this slowly to avoid burning.

...like so!

4) Carefully pour the hot milk into your Container.  I use a Pyrex mixing bowl, but Corningware would work too.  I just don’t want plastic particles to melt into my yogurt and the conductivity of metal would make handling hot liquids difficult.

5) Cool to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).  You can let it sit or put it in a partially filled sink of ice water if you want to speed things up.

Note the happy frog scrubby holder. This is critical to making good yogurt.

6) Once cooled, pour the yogurt and milk mixture from earlier down the side of the container, so as not to disturb any skin that may have formed on top.  Do not stir.

7) Cover your container with a clean dish cloth (don’t seal it!) and place it somewhere warm and dry where it won’t be disturbed.  I like to hedge my bets by placing it on an electric blanket on medium-low heat.

8 ) Come back in 8-12 hours!  The longer you wait the more tangy the yogurt will be.  Wait much longer than 12 hours and you may find it too sour.

9) Carefully drain any excess liquid off the top.  This, by the way, is called whey (there’s my pun!) and you can add it to smoothies for extra protein if you like.

10) Refrigerate until cold, and enjoy!

Really what we’re doing is “extending” the yogurt.  The initial heating breaks down the proteins, and the continued low heat allows the bacterial cultures to replicate and convert the milk into yogurt.  Putting it in the fridge causes the cultures to cease and desist.  It may sound a little gross, but it’s the basic principle of making all sorts of dairy products, and these cultures are beneficial!

You may find homemade yogurt to be runnier than storebought, simply because many of those brands have thickening agents added.   You can thicken it at home through the following steps:

1) Place a colander in a larger bowl or the sink and line it with cheesecloth

2) Pour the yogurt into it.

3) Bring together the corners of the cloth and twist them to squeeze extra whey out.  Tie it up tight and let it drain for a couple hours.

4) Give it one last squeeze.

You should get a thick, greek-style yogurt!  Unfortunately this will come at the cost of about half your total weight…sadface.

Now just remember save a couple tablespoons for the next batch!  You can keep this going indefinitely if you’re careful.  I have heard that you can freeze samples in an ice cube tray for later, which may be helpful if you’re the kind of person who regularly finds furry blue creatures nesting in your leftovers…like me…

I’ll let you do your own research on the health benefits of yogurt,  but here’s a start with the Globe and Mail’s recent headline: A Yogurt a Day may keep Heart Disease Away.   Enjoy!

Granola Tales

The other day I took a massive leap forward in my hippie transformation: I made my own granola.

Now personally I can’t think of anything more thoroughly hippie, but my friend contends that it’s only about 65% of the nougat filling that is the heart of a hippie.  According to her, the remaining content is homemade fruit leather.

I can’t confirm these allegations, but anyways, granola.

I needed a recipe that wasn’t entirely comprised of nuts, as these send my husband to the emergency room.  After some searching, I found Healthy Green Kitchen, an awesome blog, and in particular, a granola recipe that’s nut-free.

Now, I will admit that I had to go to two different natural foods stores before I could find all these ingredients, but it was totally worth it.  I’m copying over the recipe as is, and you’ll find my modifications underneath.

You will need:

*1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
*1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
*1/3 cup raw sesame seeds
*2 cups organic rolled oats
*1-2 teaspoons organic ground cinnamon
*3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
*3 tablespoons organic coconut oil, liquified in a pan of hot water, if necessary
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*1/2 cup organic raisins
*1/2 cup organic dried cranberries, unsulphured dried apricots, or other dried fruit (chopped, if necessary)
*1/4 cup raw cacao nibs- optional, but highly recommended (70% dark chocolate chips could be substituted, if desired)

And then:

1. Preheat oven to 250°F.

2. Pour all ingredients except cacao nibs in a large bowl and stir well.

3. Spread the mixture evenly onto a baking sheet in a thin layer.

4. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

5. Remove pan from oven, toss granola around, rotate the pan, and bake for another 15 minutes. Repeat until granola is completely dry and light golden brown (about 1 hour total).

6. Allow to cool and then stir in cacao nibs. Store in an air-tight container.

All that was left by the time I got around to taking a picture.

So, feedback time.  First off, I used roasted seeds instead of raw, simply because that’s all I could find.  For the record, I would have preferred raw.  Second, I don’t like raisins, so I used a cup of a dried berries mix.  For the next batch, I used dried blueberries and cranberries.  Third, my granola was still kind of greasy after one hour, so on the next batch, I baked it longer and at 300, which had much better results. Fourth, I added flax seeds to the next batch, because why not.

I was fortunate enough to find the recommended cacao nibs…right next to the dried berries turns out.  And can I say that they are phenomenal?  I thought they’d be super bitter, but these are chocolately and delicious, and the packaging calls them a superfood… so I am just going to roll with the idea that they are good for you despite tasting so heavenly.

Initially I was a little concerned about coconut oil, as it’s a saturated fat.  However as far as I can tell from my research, the truly harmful fats are animal in origin, and therefore if you are going to have a saturated fat, coconut is the one to use.  In small quantities it appears to have some health benefits, and is pretty much tasteless, making it a good substitute for many things.  If you are still concerned you could try substituting grapeseed oil.

What can I say? It's delicious! I tripled the recipe on the next batch.

Bottom line, I give this recipe an A.  It’s not complicated, provided you can get the ingredients, and even then it’s easy to modify.  You could easily add nuts if you wish.  The cinnamon and vanilla are a great combination of flavours, and I actually have to be careful not to stuff myself with it.  It’s that good!

EDIT:  So turns out you can get almost all of this in bulk at Coopers, and some of it in bulk at Superstore.  Nice to know that more chains are broadening their selection of health foods!