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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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Hydrosol

Hydrosol

           

 I know what you are thinking.  “Hydro-what?”  Many people know hydrosol by other common names:  Herbal waters, Rose water, Lavender water, essential waters, or floral waters.  Water by any other name should sound so complex.

What exactly is a hydrosol you ask?  Hydrosol is a byproduct of the distillation of essential oils.  It is not actually an essential oil, but the fragrant water that is left after the oil has been extracted.  Hydrosol contains many of the plants healing properties and fragrant qualities, though in a less concentrated form.  It also contain the plant acids, making it kind to skin and very useful in facial toners.

Hydrosol is used in many applications.  I like to put it in a misting bottle and use it as a room spray or to mist on my pillows and furniture.  Also, depending on what the hydrosol is made of, it can be used for flavorings in cooking.  If you are looking for something to refresh you a hydrosol can be used from the refrigerator as a cooling body mist or a facial toner.  You can even use it to make an insect repellant for you, your family and even your pets.  Hydrosol also contains the anti-bacterial, anti- viral, or other disinfecting qualities that make it to useful in the kitchen for a clean up spray.  I’m sure there many other uses.

A hydrosol is made using either herbs or flowers gathered from your own garden or dried herbs obtained at your local herb store.  The herbs that you select can be because of their scent, their medicinal qualities, their valuable germ fighting abilities, or even for the memories that the scents inspire.  Lavender can quiet and calm your nerves or help you sleep.  It is one of my favorites.  Lemon Verbena, with its lemony fragrance can brighten your mood and makes things smell fresh and clean.  Rosemary can clear your mind and help with memory.  Peppermint can clear your head with it’s menthol scent and make a room feel less stuffy.  Rose petals make a nice old fashion body mist that reminds me of my Grandma and Grandpa’s garden.  The list of herbs and flowers that you can use is only limited by what you can get your hands on.  The herbs and flowers can be distilled singly or mixed to make a signature scent that is yours alone.  Experiment and have fun with it.

You can use common items from around your house to do a simple steam-distillation process at home.  To make it yourself you will need:  A large kettle with a lid (I used my canning kettle), a brick, a bowl that is made of nonreactive metal or glass, water, 3 to 4 trays of ice, 5 to 7 large handfuls of your herb of choice, a heat source, hot pads and small plastic cup to remove water from the lid.  You’ll see, it will eventually make sense.

Items needed to make Hydrosol

Making an herbal hydrosol isn’t hard.  First assemble your stovetop still. Place the large kettle on the stove and place the brick inside on the bottom in the middle.  Next add enough water to just cover the top of the brick.  Then add 5 to 7 handfuls of herbs, taking care not to place them on the brick.  Next place the bowl evenly on the brick so that it won’t tip over.  Place the lid on the kettle upside down and make sure that it is not resting on bowl inside.  If it is get a smaller bowl.

Stove top still assembled.

To process yours herbs brings the water in the kettle to boil.  When the water starts to boil, before you can smell the herbs, place enough ice onto the inverted lid to fill it.  The ice causes the steam that is being produced to run down the inverted lid on the inside of the kettle and drip into the bowl that is sitting on the brick and not escape into the air.  Turn the heat down to simmer.   Now wait and don’t peek.

Ice is added to super condense the steam.

When all the ice has melted in the lid, about 15 to 20 minutes, turn off the stove.   Do not leave the kettle unattended because if the herbs boil dry they can catch fire.  Remove some of the water from the lid with the plastic cup so it is easier to remove the lid without spilling the water.  Don’t let any of the water from the lid drip into the bowl inside.  Remove the bowl from the kettle with potholder and pour the contents into a clean canning jar.  Allow the hydrosol to cool completely before pouring it into a misting bottle.

The final product is very fragrant water with a small amount of essential oil on top or Hydrosol.  It is somewhat acidic and should be good for 6 months to a year.  Though the hydrosol has been produced at a high heat it is not completely sterile and should be stored in the refrigerator in a glass container or something that is non-reactive.

Finished Hydrosol!

When I started this project my husband just shook his head, he is getting use to my odd projects I think.  The house did smell great for couple days and I have a small supply of a cooling mist to use on these hot days of summer.

 

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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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Preserving Perseverance

                When it comes to food, I like to remember the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper.  While the Ant spent his summer stocking up on food for winter, the Grasshopper frivolously spent his summer eating through the many delectable leaves of his domain, saving nothing for the winter to come.  Some years I’m the Grasshopper and some years I’m the Ant.

                During the intermittent year that I’m the Grasshopper I don’t feel that I have the time to preserve food for the coming winter.  I have become very good at coming up with reasons that I shouldn’t take up my time with food preservation.  My brain tells me, “It’s easier to just go to the store and pick up whatever I need”, or “It’s cheaper if I wait until whatever I need is on sale”, or “It’s just as good as what I put up”, even “I’m too tired” or it’s too hot”.  The last two are when I’m really in a whiny mood and can’t come up with anything else. 

                To tell the truth, during the years that I’m in Ant mode, there is a real feeling of satisfaction when I look at the shelf where my preserves set and think to myself, “Yes, I did that and isn’t it pretty.”  There are real benefits to canning your own food.  You know who preserved your food.  You know what is in that jar of peaches or pears because it was within your control the whole time. You know when the food was preserved, thus how long it has been in the jar.  You know where your food came from and in my case that it was from a local farmer.  You are spending money in your local area so it benefits the local economy and so is the farmer that just received your hard earned money.  You know how the food was handled.  You know why you do canning, for purely hedonistic motives.  What, you might ask, is the historical significance?  Why I remember my Grandmother canning Tomatoes and fruits when I spent summers there.  So, I can still keep the feeling of those days gone by.  This is one of those comfort memories that makes me feel good.

                 The science of canning is fairly straight forward.  For high acid foods like tomatoes, fruits or anything made with fruit, and anything that is pickled, the heat of a Hot Water Bath Canner, also called a Kettle Canner is sufficient.  For all other vegetables and meats a pressure canner is a necessity.  When your jars are filled and the lids and bands have put into place they are then placed into the canner.  When you heat the jars their contents start to expand and the air that is left at the top is forced out.  This happens even if the lids are on tightly.   After the allotted time has passed the jars are removed from the canner and left to set and cool at room temperature.  The contents start to contract and PING, the vacuum seal is made.  The heat destroys bacteria, molds and enzymes that cause food to spoil and yeasts that cause fruits to ferment.  Basically the seal keeps all the good stuff in and bad stuff out.

                Preserving food by this method is not hard to succeed at as long as you pay attention to the details.  Having a good book on canning on hand is a great idea.  The Ball Blue Book is my favorite and it teaches you a lot along the way.  Making sure everything that touches the food, whether it is cold packed or hot packed, is sterilized in boiling water is very important.  Also, the suggestions for the amount of time to process the jars in the boiling water or under pressure should be followed.  I haven’t canned in almost 10 years so I bought a new Ball Blue Book and spent an evening reading through it a little before I embarked back on this adventure.

                There are some basic supplies you will need.  A pressure canner or a hot water bath canner is your initial investment and it will give you years of return on your investment.  This item can also be borrowed from a friend or relative who might also be willing to help by passing on their knowledge of canning.  Second, an assortment of jars, either regular or wide mouth, that are meant for canning.  You can use used canning jars, but you have to be diligent about checking them for chips or cracks that could spoil you canning experience.  Always use new lids on the jars although the rings can be used over and over.  Other things like a food funnel for putting the food in the jar neater, a jar lifter for moving the hot jars, and a thin blunt utensil for releasing air bubbles from around the food in the jar before you put the lid on are handy but not necessary.  A butter knife works well for releasing air bubbles. Clean old towels to set the hot jars on to cool.  You don’t have to have the most expensive equipment.  It’s better to just keep it simple.

                I remember those hot fall days in my Grandmas kitchen with my mom and aunts canning everything in sight, including me if I didn’t get out of the way.  It was sweltering and messy and in the mind of a kid I wonder who would ever want to do this every year.  Now I think to myself, as I look at the pretty rows of preserves on my shelf, who wouldn’t want to do this.  Now, on to Apple Sauce.

 
 

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