Monday, November 8, 2010
Making sweets or baked goods while following a traditional foods lifestyle can be challenging for a couple of reasons. Evidence is stacking up from all sides that sugar and simple carbohydrates in refined flour are just not good for you. Sally Fallon recommends the use of rapadura, an unrefined cane sugar, instead of refined white sugar or adapting a recipe to use honey or maple syrup. These sweetners, while still very high in sucrose and fructose that can wreck havoc on all but the very most stable blood sugar levels, do contain some of the trace nutrients of the original plant material. Traditional wisdom reminds us that tempering our sweets with adequate fats can help regulate our blood sugar so I always try to include nutritious ingredients and a full compliment of butter, eggs or coconut oil.
The other problem with baking is the problem of grains. Sally Fallon teaches us that though whole grains are more nutritious than refined grains, they need to be processed properly in order to neutralize anti-nutrients and release their full potential. The usual methods for neutralizing phytates are soaking in an acidic medium, sprouting or fermenting using sourdough methods. I won't even get into gluten free baking, oy! Sprouted flour can be used in any recipe that calls for wheat flour with minimal or no changes to the process. Soaking and fermenting require completely different processes and honestly, are a bit outside my range of motion on a typical Saturday morning. I take comfort in the knowledge that white flour, though not adding much nutrition, is not removing vital minerals through the action of phytic acid. My baked goods are treats, not staples in my diet, and so I don't worry too much.
This recipe, though, circumvents most of these problems by being grain free and refined sugar free. It is based on a recipe in the great cookbook White Trash Cooking by Ernest Matt Mickler, a lovely collection of authentic recipes reminiscent of the author's childhood in rural Mississippi. The original is called Sweet Potato Pone and is a mix of baked sweet potatoes, heavy cream, molasses and eggs baked into a sweet treat. I subsituted the sweet potato for canned pumpkin and the heavy cream for coconut milk to make a healthful, easy baked treat for any Saturday morning.
Pumpkin Molasses Custard (or Pone, if you prefer)
1 can canned pumpkin (or 2 cups mashed cooked pumpkin, winter sqash or sweet potato)
1/2 can coconut milk (or 1 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk)
3 eggs (or 2, if that's all you got)
1/2 cup molasses (give or take - a big hearty glugg out of the jar will do)
spices to taste - I used 2 tsp cinnamon. Nutmeg, ginger or cloves are not out of place here.
1/2 tsp salt
Combine everything in a mixing bowl and then pour into a greased 8x8 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes or until set and browned to your liking. It really can be eaten anywhere from still a little jiggly to brown and firm so take it out whenever you just can't stand it anymore.
Serve with whipped cream, cold heavy cream, chopped nuts or just a spoon. It's very rich but very tasty.
What do you like to bake up on these cool, rainy, autumn mornings?
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
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Congratulations! You are now the steward of an amazing life form, kefir, that will provide you with cultured milk very little work on your part. You are the next a long and unbroken line of stewards that stretches back into the mists of time. Interestingly, no one really knows where kefir comes from or how it first came about. It is believed that the first kefir drinkers came from the mountains of the Caucasus where it is considered a gift from the gods. They may be right because no one has been able to grow kefir in a lab without a starter. Every kefir grain in the world is descended from those original grains.
Kefir grains, as they are called, are not really grains or seeds at all. The spongy “grains” are a colony of yeast and bacteria that convert the sugar in dairy milk into their own spongy outer covering, energy to live and reproduce and a whole host of acids, vitamins and alcoholic byproducts of their metabolism. The grains will grow and reproduce in any dairy milk and like to stay at room temperature so no heating is required. You can also use the grains to ferment other sweet liquids but the grains won’t reproduce. For more information on the microbiological make up of kefir grains, or for any other kind of information you could want about kefir, be sure to check out Dom’s Kefir In-Site.
Care and Feeding of Your Kefir Grains
The Very Basics
2 tbs of kefir grains
2 cups of milk
Place the kefir grains and milk in a glass jar with a lid and leave at room temperature until the milk thickens and sours. Strain the kefir, reserving the grains. Add the grains to fresh milk and store the finished kefir in the fridge until you use it.
See, wasn’t that easy?
Beyond the Basics
They also like to stay at a comfortable room temperature, somewhere between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. That being said, they are resilient buggers and can bounce back from a lot of abuse.
Kefir grains are at their happiest in dairy milk that is as close to the way it came out of the animal as possible. They love raw milk but do just fine in pasteurized milk. They do fine in cow or goat milk (or any other type of dairy milk you happen to have) and prefer whole, full fat milk. Low fat milk would be fine, but do not keep them in ultra pasteurized milk (which is actually shelf stable, they just sell it refrigerated because Americans won’t buy shelf stable milk), or non-fat milk for extended periods. If you must buy these types of milk treat them as non-dairy milks, discussed below.
Oh – someday you should try popping your kefir grains into whipping cream. You will never look at sour cream the same way again. Yum!
The Grains and Separating Them
It is suggested to use 1-2 tablespoons of kefir grains to 2 cups of milk and let it ferment at room temperature for 24 hours. You will learn to adjust the amount of milk based on how your kefir grains are doing at culturing milk, the ambient temperature and how many grains you have available. Remember, these guys are hardy and will culture your milk as best they can in a wide variety of circumstances.
You don’t need to rinse your kefir grains (except in special cases as talked about below), just transfer them. They should be clearish white, quite puffy and complex and soft to the touch with a slimy coating. If they are hard, or yellow or smooth they are unhappy and you should check with Dom’s Kefir In-Site to see how to help them, or if they are beyond help.
To separate the grains from the finished kefir you can either strain the kefir through a wire mesh (or plastic, or bamboo) strainer, or fish them out with a spoon or fork. For a long time I fished mine out with a small wooden fork and liked the ease of this method. Any grains I didn’t ‘catch’ just stayed in the kefir and got blended when I made smoothies. I now tend to strain and like that method for two reasons. One, it catches all the tiny baby kefir grains that start to grow in the kefir and two, it helps break up and smooth out the curd of the finished kefir.
Utensils and Jars
I culture my kefir in glass jars with a screw top lid. I tend to ferment mine with the lid on tight because I am afraid of knocking it over and spilling it, but many people suggest leaving the lid slightly ajar, or using a towel or coffee filter over the top of the jar instead of a solid lid. A tight lid allows the kefir to get more fizzy and may alter the amount of alcohol in the finished kefir. Check Dom’s Kefir In-Site for more information about various ways to effect the final fermentation.
It is fine to use stainless steel strainers or utensils to handle kefir, but please make sure they are clean and not left in the kefir for an extended amount of time. Do not use any reactive metals like brass, aluminum, cast iron, or copper. Kefir is acidic and these metals are bad news with acidic food. Plastic or bamboo are other fine choices for handling kefir.
How do I know it’s Ready?
You will know the kefir is ready to strain because the milk will have thickened and smell sour rather than sweet. At first it will be like the consistency of buttermilk, store bought kefir or drinkable yogurt but eventually the kefir will curdle and separate. When this happens you will see a thick layer of white curds floating on top and a thin yellowish liquid below. Taste your kefir at various stages to see which you like to drink – most people prefer it when it has just thickened but I don’t mind curdled kefir, myself.
If the kefir has curdled I make sure the lid is on tight and shake the jar to break up the curds. Then I separate the grains through a strainer and the finished kefir is perfectly good for baking or sweetened smoothies. Remember, kefir is a mix of bacteria and yeast so it will always have a bit more of a yeasty flavor than yogurt or even store bought kefir (which by law is not allowed to have yeast in it). Experiment with more milk or less time if your kefir is too “ripe” or sour for your tastes.
Resting Your Kefir Grains
Your kefir grains will keep fermenting milk into kefir indefinitely as long as they have good milk and proper temperatures. But sometimes you need a break either because you have too much kefir or you won’t be able to strain the grains every day. Luckily, you can refrigerate the kefir grains for up to a couple months with no detriment to the grains.
When you are ready to give your grains a break put them in a clean jar with the same amount of fresh milk that they have been fermenting in a 24 hour period. Dom recommends this amount of milk for resting your grains for up to a week. He suggests increasing the milk by about 30% for each additional week of storage, or you can simply strain the kefir out each week. I have kept 3 tbs of kefir grains in a cup of milk for a couple months at a time and the grains have bounced back just fine. The kefir you strain off the grains after their rest in the fridge is perfectly safe to drink, though it may be thinner or more sour than usual.
Do note that different strains of bacteria and yeast respond to cold storage differently so kefir grains usually require a little care when coming back to full fermenting strength. They should also get to come out of the fridge and ferment at room temperature for a week or so every couple weeks or months so they don’t get too out of balance.
When bringing kefir grains out of the fridge strain them off the old kefir and put fresh milk over them like normal. I usually use a smaller proportion of milk than usual, and change the milk as soon as it seems sour, even if it is a slightly different consistency than usual. The kefir should come back to what you expect it to be within one or two cycles with fresh milk.
Culturing Non-Dairy Beverages
Kefir grains need dairy milk to grow and reproduce but they will culture any liquid into a probiotic beverage. There are two ways to culture non-dairy beverages – switching the grains back and forth, or sacrificing some of the grains to the non dairy beverage.
If you are going to make non dairy kefir only occasionally it is best to switch the grains back and forth. I occasionally make coconut milk kefir by plunking the strained grains into canned coconut milk and let that ferment for 12 or 24 hours. When the coconut kefir is ready strain out the grains and put them back in dairy milk. I often rinse my grains before putting them back in the dairy milk thinking that the surface of the grains needs to be in good contact with the dairy milk. Dom cautions against rinsing in most situations, and I am careful when rinsing to not contaminate the grains.
If you want to continuously ferment non-dairy kefir you should hold back a portion of the grains in dairy milk and use another portion for the non-dairy milk. Use the grains in soy, almond or coconut milk the way you would in dairy milk just being sure to note when they are no longer healthy looking or fermenting properly. Keep another portion in dairy milk so that it keeps growing and you have some to replenish your non-dairy grains when they no longer ferment properly. I’ve never done this method myself, but have heard of others doing it with great success.
You can also play around with fermenting juice or sugar water as well. It often goes alcoholic, but sometimes turns out very tasty.
What To Do With All Your Kefir
Kefir is great in smoothies and baked goods and in a million other dishes. It can basically be used anywhere you would use buttermilk, but it does have a bit of a yeasty flavor that can be unwelcome in some dishes. In other dishes you’d never know the milk was cultured. Here are my favorite ways to use kefir.
*Smoothies. Combine the kefir with frozen or fresh fruit, juice, ice, and sweetner of your choice in a blender to make a delicious smoothie. Add coconut oil, nut butter or good quality egg yolks to boost the protein and fat content, or use more juice to make it lighter. You can blend the kefir with a little fruit syrup or pulp to make it more like the flavored kefir at the store. Experiment with green smoothies!
*Blender Batter Pancakes. This is a method for making pancake or waffle batter by soaking whole grains in kefir overnight and then grinding in your blender. Here is Sue Gregg's original recipe, and here is my blog post on the recipe.
*Kefir naan or flatbread. This is a neat recipe where you combine kefir and wheat flour, knead it like regular bread dough, then let it raise overnight. The natural yeast in the kefir is all the leavening you need. It is a very sour dough but tender and delicious. Cook like naan or pita on a griddle, use as a pizza crust or bake as rolls. Here's the link to the website, and here's a photo and write up of the time I did it.
*Macaroni and cheese. Just use kefir instead of milk for boxed or real cheese sauce.
*Clafouti. This is a delicious, rustic French dessert (or decadent breakfast) that is essentially an eggy pudding studded with fruit. Here's the recipe I use. I just substitute kefir for the milk and use whatever fresh or frozen fruit you have.
This post is a part of Real Food Wednesdays. Check out more real food blogs at the carnival!
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
This batch I made included the exotic addition of arame, a type of seaweed. Seaweed is a great thing to add to anyone's diet for the trace minerals and rare proteins and sugars. Arame, the common name for the kelp Eisenia bicyclis, is a rich source of calcium, zinc and iodine. It is also a good source of lignans which help fight cancer according to some studies. As expected, its taste is hardly noticeable in the highly flavored kimchi, though it is visually apparent as black threads in the cabbage mix.
Kimchi with Arame
Green Onions, or sliced white onions
Note on amounts: I don't give any. That's not the important part. To make one quart of kimchi I filled up a 3 or 4 quart mixing bowl with shredded veggies and seasonings. I would expect this is about 3/4 of a medium head of cabbage, 2 good sized carrots, 10 big green onions, a handful of arame, 3 inches of ginger, 5 cloves of garlic and enough chiles to make it red and spicy. Enough salt to make it "too salty to be tasty, not salty enough to be gross". See my blog posts on making sauerkraut, making pickles and my pickle FAQ for more information on my methods.
I used a mix of ground whole dried peppers and commercial New Mexico chile powder. In the past I have used a mix of chile flakes (like for pizza), cayenne, New Mexico Chile powder and paprika. You should use however much of whatever you have. This is artisanal cooking!
Shred the cabbage to your liking and either chop, plank or ribbon the carrots with a vegetable peeler. Chop up the green onions however you see fit and mince the ginger and garlic into matchsticks or tiny specks, as you see fit.
Put the handful of dried arame into a bowl of warm water and let sit for 5 or 10 minutes.
Toss all of the veggies together with the ground chiles and salt in a large mixing bowl or cooking pot, tasting as you mix. Pull the arame out of the water, squeezing it as dry as you can and leaving all the grit behind in the bowl. Mix that into the veggies and continue mixing, tasting and adding salt or chile powder as necessary.When the veggies and seasonings are mixed together well and good and salty you can either leave it in the bowl for an hour or so, or start packing it right away. I have gotten lazy and been leaving it in the bowl for a while to allow more liquid to come out of the veggies and make packing it easier.
When you are ready start spooning the mixture into your clean quart sized jar. Really pack it down in there. I use a regular mouth half pint jar to push it down into a wide mouth quart jar, but I've also used wooden meat mallets and those Chinese soup spoons to pack the veggies down. You really want to squeeze all the air out of the jar and let the liquid come up over the veggies. If you are squeezing and squeezing and still not getting liquid over, or at least to the top of your veggies you can add some more brine - salt added to water until it is too salty to be tasty but not so salty it makes you gag. You will end up with a wetter kimchi, but it will ferment just the same.
Put the lid on your well packed veggies and leave them on the counter for a couple days. I find that ferments with ginger in them seem to get fermenting much more quickly. I did this kimchi a day after doing a plain cabbage kraut but the kimchi was ready to go in the fridge a day earlier. It was fizzy and the lid was popping and it was smelling quite sour. Put it in the fridge and start eating it whenever you want something spicy gingery sour salty.
I have been eating this kimchi with everything. My favorite is kimchi and macaroni and cheese, but I was also really impressed with kimchi and colcannon - mashed potatoes with sauteed cabbage and collard greens. It's of course great with any stir fried vegetables or Asian flavored meats, and I tossed a fair amount into a bowl of instant rice noodle soup the other night. I think the trick to incorporating fermented vegetables into your diet is just putting a spoonful on your plate with every meal. No matter what the food you are eating is, try it with some sauerkraut, pickles or kimchi. Maybe you won't like it and you don't eat that spoonful. Then again, maybe you will love it and have discovered a whole new taste sensation. And isn't that what life is all about?
Oh - while you are thinking about kimchi you should check out the Ultimate Kimchi Recipe. The listed ingredients may or may not be the actual ultimate kimchi but the directions certainly do. Enjoy.
This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday, check out everyone else's real food posts!
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
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Simple Italian Dressing
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 2 tbs red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 small garlic clove, pressed
- goodly pinch of salt and grind of pepper
In a small jar with a lid combine the vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork until well combined. Add the oil, screw on the lid and shake until well incorporated. Taste, on a leaf of lettuce, and adjust salt or vinegar as necessary.
3 tbs high oleic sunflower oil or un-toasted sesame oil
Combine everything but the oil in a small jar with a lid. Stir to combine and then add the oil. Screw on the lid, shake to combine then taste and adjust as necessary.
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Combine everything but the oil in a small jar with a lid and stir well to combine, getting the honey really incorporated into the vinegar. Add the oil, put the lid on, shake to combine and adjust seasoning.
Balsamic Roasted Garlic Dressing
3 tbs olive oil
Mash the roasted garlic with the mustard and the salt and pepper. Stir in the vinegar until it is well combined then shake it up with the oil.
What is your favorite salad dressing? What is your favorite salad recipe? Have you suceeded in copy catting a favorite commercial dressing? Who do you buy your olive oil from?
This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday. Check it out for more real food recipes and stories!
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
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