Friday, December 5, 2014

Book Review: Fermented Vegetables.

I'm so happy to see the book I've already read and immensely enjoyed  popping up on all kinds of gift lists and book recommends lately, but with every mention I have felt more and more guilty that I didn't write a more timely review.  I have read quite a few books this year, but this one struck more of an immediate chord with me than many others.  Yes, I went through a fermenting phase, but this book reminded me of all the things exciting about the natural world, how simple things like vegetables have been handled and transformed for storage for as long as humankind has needed hold on to the season.  It also reminded me of just how beautiful the finished products can be, as varied and colorful as all of nature.  The Shockeys refer to the palette of vegetables, and that term definitely fits.

fermented veg book

It's gorgeously written too, I would challenge you not to read every word as I did back in October over a long weekend at my Parents farm, imagining yourself in a world of homesteading and pickling.  I sat in my Dad's comfortable chair with a stack of sticky notes and made a list of things to pick up at the Amish farm stands before leaving to come back to the city... sort of wishing I could just stay out in the country without coming back at all.

I made time the night I got back to start a kimchi.  I never made a vegetable ferment that started by brining the whole cabbage cut in quarters, and it really worked well.  Not overly fond of fermented garlic, the only modification I made was to cut the garlic content way back.  I packed three quarts before bed that night, and then only had to wait a long 12 days for it to ferment at room temperature before it was done to my liking.



I can't say I've had kimchi more than seldom, but I remember the first time like it was yesterday.  Our high school had open campus for lunch; so long as you didn't drive anywhere you were free to roam the town (population 850).  Fortunately for me, I met a new student my sophomore year that quickly became a friend.  Her mother was Korean, and in her little kitchen, mere steps away from the back door of the wood shop where I tried to spend as much of my high school career as possible, I discovered all kinds of interesting flavors I had never encountered before. 

Now I wish I knew if her mom made her kimchi from scratch, but at the time I didn't want to spend much time in the kitchen and probably wouldn't have thought to ask about such things.  I can't remember what I tried alongside the kimchi that day, but I'm sure it contained rice - I didn't know that some people kept constant pots of rice going in small electric cookers, that rice was integral to a whole culture and was eaten with every meal.  I never have traveled to Asia, but those days in 10th grade have stuck with me and every so often I get a real craving for those types of flavors...


It's easy enough to eat a spoonful or two of fermented veg right from the jar, likely with the fridge hanging open when you're pondering what else to eat for lunch.  But I thought that since I made such a lovely kimchi with the Fermentistas' help, I would make myself a more complex rice bowl.  I chopped up a good amount of kimchi, steamed some kale, found some already roasted beets, made a 6 minute egg and a simple dressing with ginger and sesame oil.  Then I ignored the silly amount of dishes I made for myself and sat down to a very nice lunch.

kimchi rice bowl.
It was really good, and satisfied my craving for Asian flavors.

I wasn't able to start fermenting all of the things that piqued my interest in Fermented Vegetables, but I am so excited to have this book as a resource for the upcoming seasons.  Whether you have fermented forever or have never fermented before, this book really is an excellent resource for cultivating a growing addiction or lighting a fire under a timid, first timer.  It has reignited the passion I once had for fermenting, and is going to be a first stop for new ferments for a good long while I suppose!

Disclaimer:  I did receive a copy of Fermented Vegetables for review, but as always my opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quince, year two.

"Just one more week and things should slow down a little bit."  I think that has been my mantra since September 2nd when our school year began.  Instead of slowing down, we're spiraling head first into the holiday season and I know full well that when I have the time to blink twice it will be the new year.

For this monthly edition of trying to keep up with my food blog, I bring you quince.  This is the second year now I've had quince, and I had much more to use than last year.  When I picked them up from Klee's, they were already picked for a week and fully perfumed.  I read about storing them with the linens (along with using the spent fruit to make membrillo) in this very charming article.  Instead of a brilliant green, most of them were already bright yellow.  Being pretty new to this fruit, I wasn't sure how ripe they would get, how long they would hold.  I pledged to do my best to get them preserved as soon as I could, and 10 days later I made good on my promise.

Just the day before I got them, I learned that quince, along with their relatives apples and pears, are  related to roses - which is probably old news to you, but was a revelation to me.  I started to taste quince in a different way, I could feel the velvety rose petals ambling for my olfactories; I felt like I was dealing with flowers instead of fruit.

But meanwhile:  my 100th loaf of sourdough this year:

100 :: 11.07.14
I started my 2014 loaves project in January, not really sure how many loaves of sourdough bread I bake in a year.  Turns out it will be more than 100...

The one thing I wanted to make first with the quince this year was membrillo, the sliceable fruit paste made from naturally pectin-heavy quince pulp.  I made two batches, using different methods and (obviously) differently aged fruit.  The membrillo I made first with the just ripe fruit was redder and set more readily than the one I made more than a week later, but my variables were many so it's hard to say what factors played a part in it.  I set both experiments to gel in lightly oiled ramikens and pudding cups, and let them sit in the open air after unmolding them.  (The second batch had to spend a few hours in the dehydrator to become sufficiently cured.)


I'm very happy with my membrillo.  I wrapped each piece in waxed paper and layered them in a zip top bag.  I proactively bought myself a piece of manchego cheese to enjoy some with, but haven't made the time for making some fancy crackers - so my gourmet snack or appetizer is waiting for me to catch up I guess.

The second quince experiment came to me by way of Saltie - that cookbook crush that I've had since last spring that is still going strong.  Saltie candies quince to use in a quince lassi (yogurt, honey, candied quince??  I'm definitely in.), and it turns out that candying quince is about as effortless as it gets.  Except that I popped it into the low temperature oven too late in the day and had to set a night alarm to keep checking on it.  Now that the actual baby is sleeping pretty consistently through the night, I create the kitchen project that needs sporadic monitoring.  I don't really value sleeping through the night when I have the excitement of things like this.

candied quince.

The candied quince is a tad gritty - but in the way that a pear is a little bit gritty.  It's a pleasant gritty, and it's hard to stop nibbling after a single little cube.  The syrup is very thick (you can see it in the jar that I turned upside down), and it does have some movement.  I have the two jars stored in the fridge and as I think of them I keep turning them head over heels every few days.  I have not tried the lassi yet, but I will.  I've been trying hard to rein in my sweet teeth.  I've made more than one apple galette in the past two weeks.  I like to think I've gotten rather good at the galette; I barely use any sugar (and I never measure the dark brown that I use in it, only that I grab what I can with my thumb and 3 fingers and sprinkle it over the apples), then I add a few spoonfuls of applesauce and some cinnamon and nutmeg.  The applesauce in this one was spiked with quince.

apple(quince) galette.

When I got my haul of quince, I also got some more apples that I had destined for apple pie filling.  Omer's wife, Candy, freezes the peeled sliced apples with spices in portions enough for pies and that sounded pretty good to me.  But man if those apples didn't stand around the kitchen for a whole week, every day ticking by with me feeling more and more guilty that I hadn't tackled the lot of them and gotten them tucked into the deep freeze.  I finally conceded and just turned them into more sauce: but it was the best sauce ever because most of those apples were Belle de Boskoop variety, and I decided that I would call it my "reserve sauce" and add some spent quince pulp.  I have yet to can it - I have 4 quarts worth of sauce waiting for me... I think I'll schedule it for tomorrow evening if I can swing it.

The pulp for my reserve apple(quince)sauce came from making quince syrup.  Again, I made two batches, the first redder and maybe a touch more floral and the batch a week later less so, but still every bit as delicious.  I didn't mean to repeat myself, but I enjoyed the flavor of the syrup so much that I kind of had no choice.

quince syrup.

The last thing I made was quince jelly.  I used the fruits that had been at home with me for about a week, and the flavor of the jelly is probably a little milder than if I had used them at what I think might have been their peak of ripeness.  But the color and set of the jelly is so good that I don't care.

quince jelly.

It's like the palest champagne color, and so pretty that I forgave it for being a little too vigorous and boiling over (ALL over) my freshly detailed stove top.  (Note to self: stop being so cheap and invest in a 7 quart preserving pot.)  I quickly ladled out several scoops to a bowl (and even still had some boiling over...) and was so surprised when it set.  This little jar was the result of a very big mess, but I take some comfort in the 7 other perfect jars nestled on the canning shelf.  I'm going to have a lot of sweet stuff to work my way through this season!  Fortunately it will remind me of these busy fall days, the generosity of the orchard, the pleasure of learning new things, and enjoying the mess along with the organized.

Monday morning was chilly and I started my oven at a low temperature and roasted the last 6 quinces to make a jar of jam like I did last year.  I kept poking at them with a knife every so often, getting up from my coffee at the table where one son was doing school work, and the other was busy underneath with his own contrived works.  I wondered where I got so lucky to cultivate a home life like this, I wondered why it passes so quickly even when I try so hard to slow our lives down.  But winter will hopefully help me out with this, help us nestle in beneath the snow and not really need to go anywhere.  If winter is gracious, it will help us all in our patience and remind us of what now lines the basement shelves.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Full of beans.

 I guess I really wasn't kidding that I am on the once-a-month blogging track.  It wouldn't pain me so much if there weren't so many things I wish I could write about, but my days are full not only of food but of little humans and plenty of learning.

Keeping a whole foods kitchen, preparing almost all we eat from scratch takes time - more time than I previously realized.  When you start out on such a journey and then just keep adding and building, towering ever upward, pretty soon you can start to feel like our ancestors likely did: spending most of your time and energy finding and preparing food.  While I've cut back on the ferments, there are still plenty of things to plan ahead for.  And while still on the path of economic recovery, humble things tend to take the center of our plates.

I treat meat like most other non-American cultures, as a condiment rather than a "deck-of cards" portion served alongside traditional side dish vegetables and starches.  Years ago I overdid it on the green salad making (having one a day sometimes 2 for more than a year...) and I can barely make a green salad now to save my soul.  If you make me a green salad, I'll happily eat it - but otherwise I get my greens sauteed or added to something baked.  What then to make for dinner?  So often I feel frustrated that my older son is still as picky as he is, and he recently added eggs to the list of things he doesn't currently like.  Sometimes I feel just plain worn out considering what to cook around here.

pintos & garbanzos.

Beans are usually my answer when I feel like the pantry is looking bare except for jars and jars of  miscellaneous grains, nuts, and seeds, and we don't feel like pulling a whole chicken from the freezer.  Beans are probably the one thing I can get every family member to eat simultaneously and without fuss.  Just about any bean makes my list too. Bulk Kidney, Navy, Pinto, Black, and Great Northern, rare stashed Tepary or meaty Good Mother Stellards or handfuls of long cooking legumes like garbanzo beans often push their way into my cooking life by default.

I justify the cost of eating less meat by buying mostly organic beans and legumes.  If I keep a sharp eye, my co-op will sell almost all of the standard varieties on sale 5 lbs. at a time, at some point during the year.  I collect my beans carefully, choosing them wisely, tenderly bringing them home, and housing them in quart canning jars.  Dried beans keep a remarkable long time.  I feel like I have an ace in the hole having a whole shelf of them to choose from.


I have cooked beans all matter of ways.  I have soaked them 12 hours and then carefully cooked them in a barely simmering pot of water without salt.  I have taken them off the shelf, rinsed them, and pressure cooked them for 20 minutes which wasn't enough and then re-pressure cooked them for longer.  I've put them unsoaked in a pot of water and cooked them for hours and hours and still ended up with chalky insides.  I've put them in a crock-pot and hoped for the best, frustrated that it took the day and I still had mealy beans.

I now swear by brining beans.  Emma Christensen wrote the article that I most refer to based on and endlessly tested Cook's Illustrated method and some solid science by food scientist Harold McGee.  It's titled "Think Salt is the Enemy of Perfect Beans? Think Again."  I think again every single time I make any type of bean or garbanzo bean (which should be properly titled garbanzo legume).  I've referred so much to that article that it nearly comes up automatically when I begin to type brine into my search engine.  For some reason, I can't remember the ratio of salt to water, of water to bean quantity.  Oh well.  It's good to know the Internet exists - and good to know people like my Mom who say things to me like, "well, about how much salt?  I'm not going to measure, that's too much monkeying around."

The morning I want beans for dinner (and we're early risers over here), hopefully 7-8 hours before, I throw a half pound of dried beans with a spoonful of kosher salt in a half gallon canning jar and fill it with water enough to cover by several inches.  I'll stir it well with a chopstick.  And I'll admire it on my counter for the bulk of the day.  This works particularly well with pinto beans destined for refried beans.  After the brine, I rinse them well and add them to a pressure pot.  I add another small spoonful of kosher salt and just enough water to cover by about 1 inch and lock on the lid.  I bring it up to pressure over high heat, and when the gauge starts to rattle, I turn it down to medium and time it for exactly 4 minutes.  Then I remove it from the heat and let the pressure come back naturally (without the quick-release method of running the pressure pot under the faucet).  Perfect beans.  Every single time.  In 4 minutes. ...and 8 hours of beforehand thought.

Magic Seal
My pot is old and secondhand, I try not to worry that it's aluminum since my beans are barely in it.

The 4 minute pressure rule is my standard for most brined beans.  I've tried it with different types of white beans, black beans, and red beans.  Every once in a while, they will be too soft or need to be cooked some more - but those occurrences are pretty rare.

Garbanzos get a slightly different treatment.  I soak them 8-12 hours, actually I aim for 24 hours if I'm thinking that far ahead, and I give them the same brining as the other types of beans.  When I go to cook them, (I rinse them well and) I add in a 1 t. of baking soda per pound of beans.  If I pressure pot them, I start with 8 minutes, then let the pressure come down naturally and check them.  But this week, I decided with just a half pound to cook them on the stovetop.  It took barely an hour for perfect beans, creamy still composed pebbles that would work well in a salad (or getting picked up gingerly by a baby), mashed for felafel, or blended completely smooth for hummus.

Alton Brown is where I got the baking soda idea.  I make my hummus somewhat like he does, but I always like to add in cumin powder and some cayenne.  I also use my bean cooking water to help blend it.  Being thoroughly soaked and drained, I don't find any "digestive" issues from using the cooking water, and I figure there is more flavor.

I've come to think of most of my raw ingredients as good friends.  I'm not much of a meal planner, and I exploit their different attributes as I'm considering our dinner hours.  I'm getting better at thinking ahead for meals, especially since I'm not able to grocery shop on a whim anymore, and often I'll cook twice as many beans as I need and freeze a half pound in their cooking liquid to further help me swiftly pull supper out of my sleeve.  Even with dried beans, I feel like they make a quick meal.  I feel savvy that I don't shell out for canned beans which don't often taste the best and are really quite expensive by comparison... not to mention they don't often sit well in the belly either.

Do you have a pressure pot?  Do you use it to get quick dinners on the table?  Please share!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The flying time. (Bigger Batch Ginger Granola)

I can't really believe that I've turned into one of those once-a-month bloggers, but here it is, almost a whole 4 weeks since I wrote about anything.  Life is a maze of homemade breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; at the end of the day I have no idea how food appears in a finished form and is completely cleaned up after.  As I slink into bed, I'm fast asleep before I can make it 2 pages into a book.

For the past several years, the first day of school coincided with my birthday.  I am actually never full of birthday dread, but I kind of started feeling a sense of dread that first year I had to drop my oldest son (now 8) off for school.  I hated the idea of him leaving home, but also knew it was time.  After the first pre-K and kindergarten years, I actually started looking forward to the first day of school and more free time to myself.  The time to make laborious Daring Baker challenges.  The time to make whatever struck me as I drank my morning joe and caught up on the Internet.  The time to take myself out for coffee once in awhile and actually read in peace and quiet.

This year on my birthday, instead of extra free time, I became his teacher.  I sat with him at the kitchen table after his first homeschool lesson at my counter, one on how to make ice cream base (and other egg based custards)... because when I am intrepid of starting something, I start by doing something I know.  And you know what?  I realized that I know more than I think I do, and that he wants to learn as eagerly I always have and had always hoped he would.


He learned that eggs are really amazing things, that they can thicken things like ice cream when heated.  He learned the meaning of the word tempering, and got to see that happen.  It felt nice to see him barefooted and excited for the impending ice cream later that day as he took the first steps into learning at home.  Later, we spent the morning in the field nearby discovering insects and admiring the weather.  Something happened that I wasn't expecting: I went from that person happy to have all the time in the world to myself to the one who actually enjoyed spending time with her kid again.  It is so easy to drop him off somewhere and not take an active part in his life other than to be occasionally annoyed when he doesn't listen or doesn't pick up his Legos after the millionth time I've stepped on one.  It is a true pleasure to consider all of my actions as they affect him (and his little brother), to improve on my patience, and turn my daily life into a learning experience for him.  It's only been a week, but so far it's the best week I can remember in a long time.

079 :: 09.03.14
Hybrid sourdough, made with starter and a pinch of commercial yeast...

Maybe this doesn't leave the free time to myself as I've had in the past.  I got behind on using milk kefir and popped my culture in the fridge for the week to rest.  My sourdough starter took on a perplexing ailment about a week and half ago and I patiently nursed it back, wondering all the while if I'd have to begin again from scratch.  I thought it had been infected by a wandering mold spore, or cross contaminated by the kefir.  It didn't look or act like itself until I decided to bake anyway using the insurance of a bit of commercial yeast.  The very next day, the starter looked better: active and bubbly, sweet smelling.  Like it just knew that I was going to get serious if it didn't behave.  Just like a real boy.

More than a week ago, I decided to make my new favorite granola - a gift to myself for my birthday.  Ever since I first had it, the Bojon Gourmet's Gingersnap Granola has been my absolute favorite indulgence.  I actually didn't make it for quite a long time because I can't stop eating it.  Some time ago, I saw America's Test Kitchen make an almond granola that had similar clumping power and I figured I could combine the two recipes and come out with a bigger batch of similarly addictive gingery granola.  It's been on my mental list of things to write about for a while now, and I guess this Saturday off inspires me to get it down before it is lost to time once again.

ginger granola.

Don't forget to line the sheet pan with parchment or you will not have attractive clumps after you chisel your way to the bottom of the pan.  I only forgot once, as you can imagine.  Ordinarily, I don't like to have sugar in granola, but this I consider dessert so the small amount doesn't bother me.  In fact, if you have some of this on fresh, homemade ice cream (maybe even this new buttermilk version that Alanna made?) it's about the best dessert ever. 

Ginger Granola (adapted from the Bojon Gourmet and America's Test Kitchen)
  • 5 c. rolled oats  
  • 4 t. ground ginger
  • ½ t. allspice
  • ¼ t. cloves
  • 1 c. almonds, chopped
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 1/3 c. packed (2 1/3 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 4 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • As much chopped crystallized ginger as you like
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, toss the oats with the spices and chopped almonds.  In a 2-cup measure or equivalent, whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until well blended, then whisk in oil. Pour the liquid mixture over the oats until thoroughly coated.

Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across sheet into thin, even layer (this amount makes one standard 18x13 or 17x12 sheet pan). Using a makeshift tamper (I like to use the Scottish potato masher my parents gave me, but a meat mallet or even a heavy glass would also work), compress oat mixture until very compact by tapping it into place on the pan. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. 

You can stir in chopped, crystallized ginger, or like me, store the broken chunks of granola separately and then add them when you are ready to eat it. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks they say, but I think it lasts longer – if you can keep your hands out of it.)

ginger granola.

It's maybe a little less decadent by using almonds instead of  pecans, but the more utilitarian nut makes it something I can make on a whim instead of only on occasion since I always have almonds in the pantry but not always pecans.

My kitchen life seems to be changing again for now.  Things get done in a more utilitarian way, with plenty of attention to detail (since there is no removing that from my being) but maybe with less flourish.  Most mornings I seem to prep my dinner before the breakfast dishes are even cleared which is a dramatic change for me.  I find myself thinking like my great-grandmother, Gram and no doubt my Mom did, planning the next meal (or even the next several) when the current one is still on my lips.  But that's what you do when you do it from scratch. I'm imagining when I have the time to write again, I'll probably have some helpful tips for quick scratch cooking 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Peach Sriracha Butter.

One of the surprising blessings that came along with having children was getting to know my neighbors.  I live in a small neighborhood of about 3 streets wide, a collection of maybe 100 homes that before kids I knew nothing about.  Introverted by nature, I politely went about my day coming to and fro without much interaction with the community around me, exchanging a few pleasantries maybe but not really knowing anyone personally.  Kids changed that.  Suddenly, you begin to run into the same people while running after a toddling youngster: you discover that your kids play well with their kids, you are on a first name basis with every dog on the block, and you find that the people around you are really interesting and creative and lend a huge impact to your daily life.

Monday I spent part of the morning with a few lovely women as our children played hard together.  There seems to be an unstated rule that conversation can be quickly interrupted for any number of reasons, which is actually quite nice.  It frees you from the rigor of conducting yourself in a more proper manner; I've never felt like I've been very good at moderating the flow of conversation, so stopping one abruptly to run after a child and then starting up a new one suits me pretty well.

My friend Susan is a musician and we got to talking.  She was saying how she had material that had been on hold since before her son was born (5 years) and how she should never do that because it interrupts the process.  I immediately thought about my own creative processes.  If I don't take the time to document something that really inspires or excites me within a day or so of making it, I just let it go.  "Of the moment" is so much part of the thing that makes my writing mine, makes it relevant to me as I look back on it.

It's really not so unlike preservation as I capture that split second that the food goes in the jar, I also sieze the feeling around it - the light in the kitchen creating pictures that echo the weather outside and even the time of day I had the time to muster the thoughts to the page.  Making that time seems ever more difficult as the summer is in full swing and there are so many things that just pop up on a day to day basis.  Prioritizing my online life falls to the back of the line, even when there have been so many things worthy of sharing.

peach sriracha jam.
Food in Jars' Peach Sriracha Jam (Honey Sweetened Peach Chutney) I made last week.

The summer is the heaviest preserving season, and traditionally I think I've been much more creative than I've been this year.  Short both on time and money, I didn't overdo or overthink my pantry shelves.  I have smaller batches and just enough based on what was eaten most heavily last year.  Where I used to make the time to stand stirring the pot with excess, I now stirred it with just enough - thankful for it and happy I knew where to turn for solid recipes when I didn't have the wiggle room for experimentation.

I got peaches at two different times, and split both with  neighbors.  (You can read about the first peach adventure here.)  Quickly enamored of the honey-sweetened peach chutney that Marisa McClellan posted on her site Food in Jars, I turned to her latest book as the peaches softened and I felt guilty just eating them all standing alone over the sink.  I made the small batch last week and was totally addicted.  I had exactly 2 lbs. of precious peaches left, and got to thinking that making the recipe into a more homogenized butter might be a pretty swell idea.  It takes a little longer for the boiling butter to thicken and it spatters up the stove something terrible, but all in all I think it's worth it.  It's like a spicy peach ketchup, and I've been trying it on everything.  And, just as you'd suspect, it is good on everything.

peach sriracha butter.

Peach Sriracha Butter (adapted from Marisa McClellan's recipe in Preserving by the Pint)
yields about 2 half pints
  • 2 lbs. peaches, pitted and pureed (I used a Vitamix, but you could use a regular blender)
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 c. Sriracha sauce
Combine the peach puree, sugar, and lime juice in a preserving pot (I used a 3 quart shallow saute pan, despite the spattering issue).  Over medium high heat, cook and stir frequently until the butter reduced and thickens, 20-30 minutes.  You should be able to draw the spoon through the butter and the trail doesn't fill in quickly.  Just before hitting the right consistency (aim for a thick ketchup), stir in the Sriracha and bring back to a simmer until thickened.

Pour into sterilized jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Does anyone ever remember tossing out a bottle of Sriracha?  It seems to just last forever, and then disappear...

Peaches have now come and gone.  I really shouldn't dare make any more sweet preserves for the year,  but have enough extra for gifts and special occasions.  I have too many open jars of jam floating around the fridge in a never-ending tetris game of space.  I'll have to invite a lot of the neighbors over to help me polish them off!