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Homemade Kefir

At any one time my kitchen can look like, well, a kitchen or the laboratory of the mad Herbalist.  My kitchen has seen sourdough, yogurt making, canning, hydrosol distilling during lavender harvest, and wine making.  I’ve even made Kombucha tea.   All of these have ended up with herbs or spices in them at one point or another.  Now I am enjoying the experience of making my own Kefir.

Kefir is actually fermented milk.  Unflavored, it tastes a lot like plain yogurt and has the texture and tang of buttermilk.  It’s a very healthy drink with 10 times the probiotics or live cultures that are in yogurt.  Most important, Kefir is very easy to make.

All you need to make Kefir is Milk, Kefir Grains, a strainer, a bowl, and containers to make and store it in.  I make and store the Kefir in glass-canning jars because glass is nonreactive.  The hardest thing about making kefir is acquiring the live Kefir Grains and that is simply finding someone who has extra, because yes they do multiply or order them off the Internet. It is important, as with all cooking, that the containers and utensils used for making Kefir are very clean.  I simply hand-wash everything and rinse in hot water after every use.

My Internet order of Kefir Grains contained only about a ½ teaspoon of grains.  The Grains were small and dormant.  Looking skeptically at this little package of grains I thought this is never going work, but there were pretty detailed instructions enclosed and the guy guaranteed this would work.  Everything you see on the internet is the truth.  Right?

Kefir Grains upon arrival and other useful things

The first thing I had to do was to coax the grains back into action. This is basically putting them in a small amount of milk in a glass container on your counter and changing the milk every 12 hours for about three days.  If you forget to change the milk that often don’t worry it doesn’t hurt them.  You will notice the grains becoming larger, there will be more of them, and the milk will start to thicken quicker.  Unlike making yogurt there is nothing to heat up.  Kefir doesn’t need to be kept in a warm area to make it work.  I keep my extra grains in a jar of milk in the refrigerator.  They still make Kefir and the grains still multiply.  The grains that you purchase almost always arrive with instructions on how to care for them.

Health Kefir Grains after about a week.

To separate the Kefir from the grains put a nonreactive metal strainer over a bowl and slowly pour the contents of the jar into it.  Make sure to scrape out the bottom of the jar to get all the kefir and grains.  Stir and nudge the thick liquid through the strainer. The grains will remain in the strainer.   Put the grains into a clean jar and add milk for you next batch.

Finished Kefir, fine mesh strainer and 4 cup measuring cup, and container of extra grains.

After the first three days increase the amount of milk to 1 cup and when you have at least a tablespoon of grains you can increase the amount of milk to a quart.  One tablespoon of grains will make up to a quart of Kefir.

It is not unusual for Kefir to separate in layers.  This is actually curds and whey.  You can just stir the contents of the jar back together before you strain it.  Your house temperature will dictate how fast the kefir thickens.  During the hot summer days my Kefir will start to separate in as little as 8 hours, on these days I set it in the refrigerator after I see it start to separate until I strain it the next morning.  On cold winter days it stays on the counter from one morning to the next when.  If I don’t have time to strain the Kefir it can stay in the refrigerator for a few days to a week or more.  It can even stay on the counter for a week but will probably be more like a very tangy cheese.

Kefir after it separates.

Finished Kefir

Kefir has many uses.  It can be used in place of buttermilk in recipes, to make salad dressings, drained to make a soft spreadable cheese, to make smoothies or even consumed plain.  My favorite is smoothies.  Especially when local fresh ripe fruit is in season.  Lately I’ve been making refrigerator Oatmeal.  It’s a raw food so it isn’t cooked.  I make 4 jelly jars full at a time so I have a grab and go breakfast ready in the morning.

 

Cherry, Cinnamon, and Maple Refrigerator Oatmeal

  • 1/4 cup uncooked old fashion rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon steel cut oats
  • 1/3 Cup Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Kefir
  • 1 &1/2 Teaspoons Chia seed
  • 1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup
  • 1 Teaspoon Vietnamese Cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped sweet cherries

Put everything but the cherries into a 5oz. jelly jar or an 8oz. mason jar.  Put the lid on and shake until everything is well combined.  Remove lid and top with cherries and mix well with a spoon.  Put the lid back on and place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.  Open and enjoy.  You can also add a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to the mix.  Adjust the maple syrup to your liking.

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Dinner with Family

Dinner with Family

Not long ago we were invited up to have dinner with my son Vinny and my new Daughter-in-Law Kendelle at their home.  We try to get together every couple weeks or so and it is always a very relaxing evening.

We offered to take them out to a local pub for dinner, but Kendelle had a new recipe she and Vinny wanted to make for us.  I’m really glad that she insisted on making the dinner because it was one of the best meals that I’ve ever had.

When we arrived Kendelle told us we were having Salmon with Pesto, Garlic Roasted Potatoes, and Fresh Green Beans that I had pick from our garden the day before.  For dessert I brought Double Chocolate Banana Bread, which was also a new recipe that I had wanted to try out.

Ken and I raised 2 sons and I always felt that making sure they knew how to cook was important to their survival.  I taught them the fundamentals of using fresh food from local sources and what was in season before it was popular.  That is how I was raised, eating things from the garden all spring, summer, and fall.  Then putting a few things up for the winter and supplementing from the grocery store in the winter.  They added their own love of new foods and the fact that they are both adventurous cooks.  Kendelle has brought her own flare and willingness to try new recipes to the mix.

While I enjoyed Kendelle’s company in the kitchen Ken and Vinny manned the Grill.  The Salmon was brushed with Olive Oil and the pesto was divided into two dishes.  One dish held the pesto that would go out to the grill and the other held Pesto for later as a topping for the cooked Salmon.  Vinny placed the Salmon on the hot grill to cook one side and spread some of the Pesto on the other side.  When the Salmon was part way done on the first side, about 5 or 6 minutes, he flipped the Pesto coated side down and covered the cooked side with Pesto.  He placed the lid on the grill for another 5 or 6 minutes.  With gentle pressure he checked the Salmon for doneness, it should be firm but give slightly to the pressure.

As we served ourselves and went out to the deck to enjoy dinner together we topped off the salmon with some of the fresh Pesto that was in the second bowl.  The Pesto was divided into 2 bowls so that no cross contamination could occur from the raw Salmon.  The Meal was wonderful, the Family being together is adored, and Life is good.

Here is good Pesto recipe to try out.  It is not only good on Salmon, but on chicken, roasted potatoes, pizzas and even grilled ham and cheese!  There is enough in this recipe to freeze some for that fresh taste of summer basil during the winter.  What to heck else are we going to do with all this basil?

Pesto

4 Cups Fresh Basil Leaves, Packed

4 Cloves of fresh Garlic, Crushed

¼ Cup Pine Nuts, Toasted

1 oz. of Parmesan Cheese, Grated

1 oz. of Romano Cheese, Grated

¼ to ½ Cup of Olive Oil

In a food processor mix the first 3 ingredients and pulse to chop very fine.  Add the 2 cheeses and pulse to blend well.  Switch to constant high speed and pour the olive oil in a steady stream until you have a thick sauce about the consistency of mayonnaise.

Pesto can be frozen then thawed for later use.

 

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Season of Sourdough

Seasons and Sour Dough

Sourdough Starter Ready to use

You can feel it in the air.  There is a dry crispness.  The sunlight is also changing.  The days are getting shorter and the shadows are creeping out longer to the north as sun descends to the southern regions.  The days just feel different.

Not only do the days feel different, but also I feel different.  Where in the spring I’m aching for activity.  To be elbow deep in the gardens and feel the soft warm soil under my bare feet.  Now, I’ve started to want to slow down.  Now, I want to wrap my hands around a hot cup of tea instead of a glass of ice water. I feel like taking a little longer to do things with more breaks.  Now, I’m hungry!

The food I eat is different from summer to winter.  In the summer I look forward to that first food off the grill and we cook outdoors almost every day.  With the cooler weather and less sunlight I opt for slower meals.  Meals that take a little more time to prepare.  Roasts, Potatoes, and Carrots slow cooked in the crockpot, homemade Egg Rolls, Spaghetti, and all types of stews and soups.  Best thing of all is homemade bread!  It makes me happy.

I love sourdough bread.   The flavor is wonderful!  I remember my Grandma always having a jar of sourdough starter in the refrigerator.  If she wasn’t making bread soon she would feed the starter and use the castoff for the best pancakes and biscuits.  I also remember my first experience with sour dough starter.

A neighbor, who had just moved in gave me starter for Friendship Bread.  Included were instructions on how to care for the starter, the recipe for Amish Friendship Bread, and a loaf of the bread.  It was great!

I placed the starter on my counter and followed the instructions for caring for it, after a few days I made my first bread and it was also very good.  As the days went on I kind of forgot about the starter on the counter.  It repaid me by blowing its top off and climbing all over the counter.  Its amazing how far a cup or so of sour dough starter can ooze.  It’s really a good thing that I cared for my children and animals better than I did that starter.  Even though I swore I’d never make sour dough starter again here I am craving it.

Sourdough starter is not rocket science though since I’ve had one mishap and killed 2 starters I’m beginning wonder.  Sourdough is also not an exact science.  I’ve found it to be a living organism with a personality that you have to get to know.  When it’s happy and well fed it behaves very well.  It also makes really good bread.

Sour dough starter was used before commercial yeast came on the market to make bread rise.  Actually, someone’s grain probably got wet and “Viola!”  You have sourdough. It’s not hard to start your own starter.  All it takes is flour and pineapple juice.  The naturally occurring wild yeasts that are in the air do the rest.

 

Making Sourdough Starter

Starting the Starter:  First of all you need to have every thing that comes in contact with the sourdough very clean.  Even if the spoon that I use to stir the starter with was just taken out of the drawer I run it under very hot tap water and wipe it with a paper towel.  Bacteria will ruin a good sourdough starter and can make you very sick.  Now, in a 1-Quart wide-mouth canning jar mix 1/4 Cup of Whole Wheat flour and 1/4 Cup of unsweetened Pineapple juice.  This is the juice usually labeled as no sugar added.  Cover the jar with a square of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.  Use a glass or ceramic container to avoid having the sourdough react adversely with a metal container.  Let the container set at room temperature, about 70 to 75 degrees, for 24 to 48 hours.  Stir occasionally, at least 2 to 3 times a day.  Next add 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour and 2 tablespoons of Pineapple juice and again cover a stir for the next 48 hours.  You should start to see some bubbles appearing on top of the mixture.  If you don’t you may want to throw this batch out and start over.

Now that the Starter is bubbling a little add 1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour and 4 Tablespoons of purified water.  Some tap water contains a lot of minerals and things that may inhibit the Starter.  Cover and set on counter for 24 Hours stirring a couple times a day.  Some separation is normal when the starter sets for awhile.  As long a it isn’t tinged red or fuzzy and has a pleasant kind of alcohol yeasty smell it’s fine.  Finally, add 4 Tbs. whole wheat flour and 3 to 4 Tablespoons of water to the Starter.  Stir and cover, let set on the counter for about an hour.  Congratulations you are now the parent of a nice healthy, bubbly Sourdough Starter.

Initial feeding:  Like all living things sourdough has to be fed.   At this point I start using half Whole Wheat flour and half unbleached flour.  After the first 48 hours add 5 Tbs. flour and 4 Tbs. water, stir well.  Let the container set at room temperature for another 24 hours.  The mixture should keep bubbling.  After another 24 hours feed the mixture again and let set for 24 hours. If the starter seems too thin add a little flour a tsp. at a time and if it seems too thick add water a tsp. at a time until it feels right.  It should be thick and mixable but not doughy.

This is the sourdough about an hour after feeding and it's ready to return to the refrigerator

Sourdough and cast-off:  Now empty the mixture into a bowl and thoroughly wash the jar.  Put 1 Cup of starter back into the jar and add 1 cup flour and ¾ cup water and leave it at room temperature for 1 hour, this is your sourdough starter.  What remains in the bowl is called Cast-off.  Though it can be tossed on the compost pile and it isn’t strong enough to raise bread, it can be used to make pancakes, pizza crust and is good added to muffins or cakes.  You also can give it away to an agreeable friend with instructions on how to care for it

 

Caring for Sourdough Starter

 

            To make a strong sourdough starter that will raise bread keep the starter at room temperature and feed ever 12 hours for three more days.  This helps the sourdough become well established, though it also creates more cast-off.  At the beginning of the 2nd day I add 1 Tbs. of honey.  Always make sure you have a large enough container so that the sourdough can expand and not overflow.  On the morning of the 3rd day place the starter into a bowl and put 1 cup back into the clean and washed jar.  Feed the starter in the jar with equal amounts of flour and water and allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour then place it into the refrigerator.  Measure what you need for your recipe from the contents of the bowl and the rest is cast-off.  If you don’t use the starter within 5 to 7 days:  Remove it from the refrigerator, allow it to come up to room temperature, feed it with equal parts flour and water, leave it on the counter for an hour, and then return to refrigerator.  Caring for sourdough starter is kind of like caring for a baby, but with out all the diapers and crying

Success!

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Your sourdough starter is now ready to use in bread recipes.  Always keep a cup to feed for future use and experiment with any cast-off in your everyday recipes.  There are a lot of recipes to be found in cookbooks and on the Internet.  I’m off to bake bread!

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in In the Kitchen

 

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Micro-Greens

Winter Gardening: Mighty Micro-Greens

Nutritious Micro-Greens

From tiny seeds emerge tasty micro-greens. These lowly seeds bring forth a burst of flavor and color that can brighten up our day and make us turn our thoughts to Spring. Since winter is on its way, I have turned my attention toward small scale gardening. With a little time, a small amount of space, and some loving care the seeds that you plant can produce the same small greens that are being sold in upscale restaurants and in the bags at the store as Spring Greens for a fraction of the cost.

Micro-Greens are not the same thing as Sprouts. Sprouts are grown in a covered container. They can be grown in low light, because of the short amount of time it takes to produce a small sprout. About 5 to 7 days depending on the type of seed used. Also Sprouts are not grown in soil, the seeds are first soaked then rinsed a couple times a day until they have sprouted and produced the first pale leaves. The difference isn’t just in the way they are produced, but in the final result.

Grown in potting mix, Micro-Greens can take anywhere from 10 to 15 days for the faster growing varieties, to 16 to 25 days for the slower growing varieties. They require good light and ventilation to keep them healthy. They are the same herbs and salad vegetables that are grown in our gardens during the spring and summer only harvested when they are a lot smaller.

Growing Micro-Greens takes very little investment. Some of the things you will need are: Small square containers that have drainage holes, like the plastic ones at the store that are filled with mushrooms or the Earthbound Organic salad mixes, something to put under the container to catch the excess water, a good potting mix, a few different varieties of seed (see varieties below), something to water with, and a window with good bright light or, even better, a simple grow light with a timer. I suggest starting with one or two varieties of seed. Fill your container with potting mix to about ½ inch from the top, then firm and flatten the soil. Next, sprinkle some of the seed on top of the soil. It should look like it would if you were peppering your food, it is ok for the seeds to overlap a little. You want the plants to grow in a dense mass so that they grow straight with tender stems.

Micro greens 2

Seeded container

Cover the seeds with about ¼ inch of soil. To start with I use a mister to water the seeds so that I don’t move them around too much. Later, when the seeds have sprouted, you can use a measuring cup to gently water your micro-greens farm. Water only until the soil is damp wet, not soggy. You can cover the container at first to keep moisture in and create greenhouse like conditions, but remove the cover as soon as you see the first sprouts. Set the containers in a bright window or under a grow light that is no more than 10 inches from the top of the container and nature will do the rest. You should see green sprouts in 3 to 10 days depending on the variety of seed used. Then water enough to keep the soil damp but not soggy, roots need oxygen to stay healthy. If you eat a lot of micro-greens the small containers can be planted 7 to 10 days apart so you will always have a fresh crop.

Though there are many varieties of seeds that can be used for micro-greens here are just a few suggestions and their characteristics. Fast growing varieties: Mildly sweet Chinese Cabbage, peppery flavored Cress, mildly flavored Red Russian Kale, Spicy flavored Ruby Streaks Mustard, Mildly flavored Red Cabbage. The fast growing varieties germinate in 3 to 5 days and are generally ready to harvest in 10 to 15 days.

Mixed lettuce and herb micro greens

Slower growing varieties: Lemony flavored Sorrel, Carrot flavored carrots grown for their tops, Spicy flavored Arugula, Pink stemmed Red Gunner Purslane, Deep red Bulls Blood Beet with its spinach like flavor. The slower growing varieties will germinate in 5 to 7 days and be ready for harvest in 15 to 25 days. Also many herbs can be used for Micro-Greens. All of the Basils, Dill, Cilantro, and Parsley are a few easy suggestions. Finally, any type of vegetable that is grown for Lettuce or Greens can be used for Micro-Greens. You can combine different seeds to get a mixed crop, but always mix slow growing seed with slow growing seed or fast growing seed with fast growing seed. This way the plants in the mixed container will mature at the same rate.

Harvesting what you have sown is a fairly simple affair. You will need a small pair of kitchen shears and a container either to eat out of or to store you harvest in the refrigerator for later. Many of the seeds sold for Micro-Greens have harvesting instructions on them, but as with everything else there is a rule of thumb. Hopefully it’s a green thumb. Most greens are ready to harvest when they are 3 to 4 inches tall. If the plant has a long stem topped with just the baby leaves, these are the first leaves to appear and usually don’t look anything like the true leaves, wait until the first true leaves have unfurled to harvest. Using the small kitchen shears simply trim the tops of the greens off even with the top of the container. They are ready to eat immediately and if they don’t have any of the potting mix on them they don’t even have to be rinsed. If you are storing them for later in the day put them into a sealable container without rinsing them, but do rinse and pat or spin them dry before serving. Since it is so convenient having your own mini garden, you always have fresh greens available, there really is no reason to have to store the greens unless there are too many. As with anything the more you grow the better you will get at judging how much to grow for your family’s use.

Micro Greens 4

Micro-Greens ready to harvest

Micro-Greens can be used a lot like sprouts, on salads, in sandwiches and as a topping on soup. They can also be tossed with warm or cool pasta, some fresh cut tomatoes, olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for a light meal. Wheat Grass and Barley Grass are mainly used for juicing and are considered one of the super foods. Micro-Greens also work well in sandwich wraps and if a quick snack is what you are looking for, simply snip and eat. What a great way to add some color to the house. It is healthy, edible color to boot and a lot less expensive than the spring greens at the grocery store. Give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how easy this project is.

Micro Greens 5

Time to enjoy!

 
 

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