Thursday, August 25, 2011

School is back in session

Well, it's that time again. I started classes again last week. I am taking Chemistry, Precalculus, English, Communication, and PE. I am really enjoying all my classes, and all my teachers. It just means lots of homework and early mornings. It is definitely an adjustment, and I need to be so careful about how I manage my time to get everything done. 

A perk about being back at school again is a Costco and Super H Mart that are only twenty minutes from the school. I went the other day with my sister Jenna and we had a blast! I had not been in a long time and needed to stock up on a few essentials. 
I got a big bag of besan (chickpea) flour, rice paper wrappers, korean chili powder, seaweed, rice noodles, wasabi peas and a few other items. It is very exciting to have a stocked pantry!!

Every-time I go to Super H I try to pick up something I have never tried before. This time I picked up some hijiki. It is a dried seaweed that can be reconstituted in water and takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with. I will hopefully be posting a recipe soon once I try it. 


The other thing I got is korean chili powder. I heard that it is a little like normal chili powder but spicier and more floral. I purchased it to make traditional korean kimchi. My goal is to make some in the next month or so when all the cabbages are in season. 

Yay for new ingredients :).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dark Chocolate Pancakes (Free of Gluten, Dairy, Refined Sugar, and Eggs)

I wanted chocolate for breakfast. So I made chocolate pancakes. 

Mission accomplished.

Dark Chocolate Pancakes (Free of Gluten, Dairy, Refined Sugar, and Eggs)
Makes enough for two pancakes

1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp Brown Rice Flour
2 Tbsp Cocoa Powder (I used Hershey's Dark Cocoa)
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Baking Powder
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
1 Tbsp Honey
1/4-1/3 cup water (add a little at a time until you get the right consistency)

Mix dry ingredients together. Add wet ingredients. Heat up a nonstick pan, add a little bit of butter, pour half the batter in. Flip and wait until cooked through. Repeat with the rest of the batter. Enjoy with your topping of choice. 

I spread a little bit of peanut butter and drizzled some honey on top. But I also think that some blueberries or strawberries would be amazing. I like very dark chocolate so I barely sweetened the pancake. If you like something a little sweeter you can add some stevia or a little more honey. I thought these were really great. I loved the rich flavor. I may have it again for breakfast tomorrow. :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sauteed Okra and a Tomato and Herb Quesadilla

Before I got married I definitely did not like okra. My experience was with okra that had been fried and had sat too long, and tasted like greasy mush. Not very appetizing. But my husband, he loves okra. Rumor has it when he was a kid he requested a fried okra cake for his birthday. He got it too. I wish I could see the picture of his big bowl of okra with candles pushed in for him to blow out. I am sure it was a magical experience. Since we got married I have had good fried okra when it is fresh out of the pan and super crispy. So, I like it now. But, for the two of us at home I hate frying stuff. The main reason is not even because it isn't healthy, but because it makes a big mess. I have to clean so much anyway, why would I do that to myself? 

My new mission was to find ways of preparing okra that didn't require frying. I found that roasting it in the oven produced very tasty, slightly crispy, nuggets of okra gold and I have been doing that since last summer. But roasting takes a long time and I wanted something a little quicker. 

Enter the saute.

Start off with some fresh garlic. I used 2 cloves for my one serving of okra for lunch. My husband definitely smelled me later that evening. If you are like me and don't mind garlic coming out of your pours up to 8 hours later then use two cloves. If you prefer your garlic fragrance to be slightly less pungent, then use about a half of one clove for one serving.

Slice about 10-12 okra pods fairly thin on the diagonal. Heat up a pan with 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Once the pan is nice and hot add the okra and garlic with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of red pepper flakes if you like it spicy. Cook for about ten minutes until it is well browned.  

This recipe will yield one big bowl of sauteed garlic and okra. I know a lot of people don't like okra because of the slime, but sautéing it takes away the slime. You are left with okra that is a little crispy around the edges, soft in the middle, and really quite wonderful to bite into. I thoroughly enjoyed it for lunch the other day and I can't wait to make it with dinner for my husband to try tonight. 

I was at Ingles the other day and found brown rice flour tortillas in the freezer section with the Ezekial bread. It was an exciting discovery. So, to go with my okra I made a quesadilla with extra sharp cheddar cheese, quartered cherry tomatoes, and a sprinkling of fresh thai basil from the garden. It was ridiculously delicious. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Water Kefir and a Great Tomato Harvest

I told you the other day that I had started drinking kefir. Now, there are two different kinds of kefir. Milk kefir, which you may have seen at your local grocery store and is similar to yoghurt but a more pour-able consistency, and water kefir. I have been making the water version of kefir. It is made from little grains of yeast and friendly bacteria that feed off of sugar water creating natural carbonation and lactic acid in the process. It is a refreshing, sweet and sour, effervescent drink that is high in beneficial bacteria, and therefore, good for you.

This is my most recent batch. It is a light brown color from the molasses. I put a little bit of lemon juice and fresh mint after I strained it out, and it was very refreshing. 

There are recipes and information all over the internet about different ways to do it. It is pretty forgiving, and everyone has their own unique technique. However, to start home brewing water kefir you must first obtain water kefir 'grains'. Unlike sourdough or other fermenting processes you cannot create the grains to make it. For my birthday my Mother bought me a water kefir kit off of ebay with live grains and had it shipped to my house. It was a great birthday present! You can get them either dried or live. I have heard that the dried ones are harder to get hydrated and aren't as reliable. So, you can order hydrated ones off the internet or find someone you know that brews it themselves. 

Once you get your grains you will need a glass jar, piece of cloth or coffee filter, rubber band, non-metal spoon, sugar, a slice of lemon, and water. 

Step One:
Place the grains in the bottom of your glass jar and add the correct amount of sugar and water. As a rule of thumb, to every tablespoon of kefir there should be a tablespoon of sugar and 1 cup of water. Stir with a non-metal spoon to dissolve. It's okay if it is not all dissolved at once. You can stir it again in a few hours and it should be good by then. 

Step Two: 
Add a large slice of an organic lemon. If you can't find an organic lemon, just peel off the waxed part of a conventionally grown one. It is not good for the grains to be in contact with the pesticides in the lemon peel. The lemon slice serves to balance the pH in the kefir. 
You can also add different flavorings like slices of fresh ginger or carrot and dried unsulphered fruits depending on your tastes. 

Step 3:
Once you have all your ingredients together in the jar, place a cloth or coffee filter over the top of the jar and secure it with a rubber band. Then let it sit in an out of the way part of your kitchen for 24-48 hours depending on the temperature, the type of sugar used, the desired sourness, etc. You can taste it along the way and strain it out once you think it is ready. 

Step 4: 
Strain it right into a glass and drink, or you can store it in a sealed glass container in the fridge until you are ready to drink it. If it has been 48 hours and it still isn't as sour as you like it, strain it out anyway, put a fresh batch of sugar water with the grains. Then you can let your strained kefir go through a second ferment on the counter until it reaches your desired taste. 

With my kefir I have been using a mixture of 80/20 white sugar and molasses, and about 50% of the time a slice of lemon. For some reason, since the summer started and it has been so hot, my grains have not been doing so good. When they are healthy and thriving they can multiply anywhere from 5-400% in days. Mine have not multiplied in the last month or two and some of the grains look like the texture of sand. I was doing some research and I think I haven't been changing the sugar water often enough. I may need to start changing it every 12-24 hours because of the high temperatures in our kitchen. I have found a great informational website on water kefir. It has the answer to any type of question you might have. It is a company called Yemoos Nourishing Cultures and you can click here for their water kefir webpage. 

Also, as a quick side-note, here is the exciting harvest from our garden this morning. We woke up and literally half the tomatoes on the plants were ripe. We harvested 6 swiss chard leaves, 2 okra pods, 1 little bell pepper, a lot of cherry tomatoes :), and about 16 brandywine tomatoes. Some of them have to ripen on the counter for a few days still. They were weighing down the bushes and we thought it would be better just to go ahead and pick them. I am excited about some wonderful fresh pasta sauce!

This is a close-up of our mini pepper. Unfortunately, it didn't taste that good. It was very bitter. Maybe I left it on the plant too long thinking it needed to grow bigger. I will let you know on the next one. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Garden Update - 8/05/2011

So, I told you that I would post a picture of my first tomato two days ago. But... I ate it before I got a picture. It was a very good :).

Here are my okra plants. We have been harvesting an average of 3-4 pods a day. Once we collect enough for a meal, we enjoy it roasted with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

I planted 2 bell pepper, and 4 jalapeno pepper plants. They have not grown much, and most of the flower blossoms withered. I am averaging about one small pepper per plant so far. They will probably be the spiciest jalapenos ever. I kept them in pots too long, and I also over watered them when they were in the pots. I definitely learned a lot about how to do peppers better next year. 

Here is my itty bitty little bell pepper. It is about the size of a quarter. I kept waiting for it to grow bigger, but the last week it has turned red. So, I guess it is ready to pick. What should I make with a quarter sized bell pepper?

My cherry tomatoes are doing very well. I have harvested about 2 pounds so far. The skin is a little tough but the flavor is very good. 

My brandywine tomato plants have definitely outgrown their cages. We keep having to stake them up and tie them together because they just want to fall over. I have harvested two so far and a lot more are ripening. It is very exciting!

They are huge. A lot of them are as big as my hand!

Finally, my herbs are doing very well. The Thai basil in the back has just taken off. It is so good in asian stir-fries. The one in front is a mint cutting that I transplanted. I am very excited it took root. Now I can make mint iced tea. Yum! I picked a bunch of basil yesterday and the plant looks a little scrawny so I didn't take a picture of it. But the basil tastes amazing! 

Hope you enjoyed the tour of my garden :). 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut

For those of you reading this, thanks for not giving up on me. I am sorry for the lack of posts. I haven't been in the kitchen much this summer. We don't have central AC, so we only turn on our window unit in the bedroom at night for when we sleep, and it is just too dang hot during the day to feel like cooking anything. But I miss writing, and I have so many things to tell you. I will post tomorrow about my garden. I harvested my first brandywine tomato today and it is a beauty! 

I have been on a fermenting kick lately. My journey started by reading about all the benefits of fermented food. The process of lacto-fermentation is where veggies and a simple brine of salt, water, and naturally occurring vegetable juices are left to sit out at room temperature. As the food ferments. lactic acid is created which preserves the food in place of using large amounts of vinegar. The finished product will keep for months in the fridge (if it is not eaten up right away), and will develop flavor as it ages. It is full of probiotics and enzymes, and the fermenting makes the nutrients in the food more available and easier for your body to digest. So, not only does it taste great, but it is also good for your gut. Definitely good news :).

My very first experience with fermenting was last fall with a modified version of kimchi. It had cabbage, onion, carrot, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flake. Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean condiment, similar to our sauerkraut. I admit that the sour taste of fermented vegetables is a somewhat acquired one. Especially for those of you who didn't grow up eating that sort of thing. When I made my first batch I could only eat it in small amounts mixed in with other stuff. It took me a long time to get through to the end. 

It took me a while to try again, but I knew that fermented foods were very good for me and I wanted to like them. So I tried making a ferment chili paste with five different kinds of spicy peppers, garlic, and salt. It turned out great, and I used it to spice up everything from my breakfast omelette, to my evening bowl of chicken soup. Then I started making a fermented beverage called kefir. I have started drinking that every day, but I will wait and write a whole post on it later once I get some good pictures. 

Then a couple of weeks ago my friend gave me a cabbage and I decided to try again and make sauerkraut this time. I put in cabbage, carrot, red onion, and salt. Once it had soured to my liking I put it in the fridge , and then tried to figure out how I was going to eat it. I just started trying it with different foods and realized to my amazement and joy that it tasted good on everything! 

I started eating it every day, and before I knew it, this jar that was 2/3 full was gone. 

So I made another batch, this time with more carrot (the natural juices from the carrot is what makes the brine so orange). The basic recipe is to thinly slice one medium size head of cabbage and whatever veggies you have on hand, I used several carrots and some red onion. Then add 1 to 2 Tablespoons of salt, and pound the veggies until they release enough natural juices to create the brine. 

Then you pack it in jars as tight as possible, and if there is not enough brine to cover the cabbage then you can mix together a little bit of salt and water and pour in just enough to cover. Place something on top to weigh down the cabbage and keep it under the brine. If the cabbage is exposed to the air it might start to mold, and we don't want that. What I do to keep the cabbage submerged is put a plastic bag in the opening of the jar and push the bag in as far as I can to make sure the cabbage is really well packed, and then just fill the bag with water. You could get a lot of fancy fermenting equipment, but this technique works really well for me.Then let it sit in an out-of-the-way place in your kitchen covered with a towel to keep all the fruit flies away, and let it ferment anywhere from 1 to 10 days depending on the temperature. The hotter it is in your kitchen the faster it will ferment. My kitchen is around 85-90 degrees F and it only took two days to get to the desired sourness, but when it is cooler it will take longer. 
Once it is to your liking, store in the fridge and enjoy it on all your favorite foods. Just make sure that when you dish some out, pack down the jar again to keep the rest of it under the brine so it stays nice and crisp. 

Here is my sauerkraut, tomato, pickled jalapeno, and mustard sandwich. I thought this was so good.

Besides that I have eaten it on a savory pancake, on burgers, in a sushi roll, in an omelette, on a sandwich, in a taco, in salsa, with beans and rice. It really goes with anything, and one day I literally ate it with breakfast lunch and dinner.  

For dinner tonight I enjoyed some kraut with diced tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, and raw corn eaten with tortilla chips. I have eaten this combination for at least four meals in the last week and it is such a good blend of sour, salty, spicy, soft, and crunchy. You should try it :).

So there you have it. My new favorite condiment. I am so glad I didn't stop when my first experience with fermented food wasn't what I thought it was going to be. Now I love it and it goes to show that it is always good to try something at least twice.