Fermentation Frenzy

With the new year, I’ve been motivated to try a few new things: fermenting, healthy cleansing (read: no juices or starvation), and taking real food cooking to a new level. I’ll start on fermentation and why it’s piqued my interest.

Hubs and I started taking a liquid probiotic supplement every morning last fall. We both agreed that we felt better after taking it – helped to keep us balanced and the digestive tract functioning more smoothly. I became a fan and a repeat customer.  Two issues: it’s hard to find and pricey. Well, what’s in this magic elixir but the extract of fermented real foods? 

I found inspiration from many fellow bloggers in the real food community about fermenting:

And so I began last week. I started with lacto-fermentation, straining a container of whole milk plain yogurt and reserving the liquid that resulted (whey). Thanks to OhLardy! for the step-by-step instructions here. A fun by-product of this was ultra-rich homemade Greek yogurt, which I had for breakfast this week. With my homemade whey, I tried making sparkling orange juice – add a few tablespoons of whey to OJ for a probiotic rich drink. And then, I moved on to fermented coleslaw.

Red Cabbage Fermented Slaw

Red Cabbage Fermented Slaw

Red Cabbage Fermented Slaw

Red Cabbage Fermented Slaw

Roughly following the Fermenting Vegetables recipe from Feedmelikeyoumeanit, I made my first batch of slaw using salt as my fermenting agent. Super exciting. I used my Cuisinart to shred 1/2 head of purple cabbage and slice 1 whole yellow onion, grated 1 carrot by hand, and then used the equivalent of 1 sliced red bell pepper that I had “put up” over the summer from Wolfe Spring Farm‘s CSA. Felt like a regular homesteader, I did.

The recipe filled 2 – 1 pint Mason jars. After 2 days of rest, I carefully opened one jar to test it and tamp it down. As forewarned, open carefully! There are live cultures inside and pressure builds. The concoction bubbled up and spilled ruby-colored juice on the counter, but it needed a few more days to “cook.” I sealed the jars back up and left them alone. By day 5, we were ready. Shifted to the fridge, my fermented slaw was ready to go. Crunchy, salty, savory, I ate several forkfuls with my dinner last night and loved it. I can’t say that the digestive benefits were felt as immediately as with taking a supplement, but I knew I was eating something real and homemade.

Taste the goodness

Taste the goodness

Have you ever fermented?

Thanksgiving Kitchen Crisis Averted: Vodka to the rescue

Thank you, Grey Goose. Parker House rolls saved!

Rolling Pin Substitute courtesy of Epicurious

Hubs realized that our kitchen lacks a wooden rolling pin, which is needed for the Parker House Rolls. After a quick Google search, found this great idea on Epicurious’s blog to use a 1.75 liter vodka bottle in place of a wooden rolling pin.  Our kitchen does NOT lack vodka.

Preschool Thanksgiving Celebration: The Crisis of What to Bring?

If you have kids, you are undoubtedly invited to some sort of Thanksgiving concert/luncheon/festival at your child’s school. My son’s school celebration is on Tuesday and I’m bringing…drumroll…Crispy Caramelized Brussel Sprouts! No muffins, no stuffing, no pumpkin pie. That’s right – I am putting a stake in the ground and bringing a vegetable, and a “difficult” one at that. Even I used to dislike the mighty Brussel Sprouts and am only a recent convert. Despite what you may be thinking, my 2 1/2 year old eats and enjoys these.

Crispy, Caramelized Brussel Sprouts

Will I be a rock star for bringing a healthy, savory side dish to the table, or snickered at for quasi Grinch-like behavior?

I promise to report out the results, baring my soul to you all. Tell me what you think about my controversial choice. Please post your comments below.

Crispy Caramelized Brussel Sprouts @ school: All Gone

Warning: Nerd Alert & Thanksgiving Planning

Thanksgiving planning and Google Docs. Perfect together. In an effort to get organized for Thanksgiving, I started a Google Doc workbook with several spreadsheets. First time ever and this feels like a big step, but maybe many of you are doing this already. The rationale is that we have several family members participating in the menu planning, and fortunately shopping and preparation, all living in different states and coming together for the holiday. Another factor is the kitchen itself: just 4 burners and 1 oven. My hope is that this collaboration tool will help us stay organized, reduce extra trips to the store and bickering at the stovetop.

Here’s what I did: I created a spreadsheet for our shopping list, noting which ingredient is for which recipe. I created another spreadsheet with the menu to help us plan timing. On this spreadsheet we will plan what can be made in advance, what day of, and when. I then shared the file online with the 4 other key stakeholders. The others can edit/delete from the document at will. So far, I am the only one to contribute. I am hopeful that will change….

Let the games begin! How do you get organized for the holiday? Please write a comment below and share.

Verdict on Whole, Roasted Snapper: Easy weeknight meal

Ready to serve: Roasted Red Snapper

Well, folks, the Whole Roasted Snapper was indeed an easy weeknight meal. As long as you don’t count the minutes lost to anxiety, it took about 7 minutes prep time in total. I spent 5 minutes prepping the ingredients (slice lemons, smash garlic, wash herbs) and then dressing the fish (rub with olive oil and salt, stuff with lemon slices, herbs and garlic).  It took another 2 minutes to open the bottle of white wine, then pour a glass onto the fish and a glass for myself.  In fact, my little helper Sam even enjoyed assisting in the prep and documentation (hence the nickname “Nemo” for the snapper).

Gone in seconds: Crispy Baked “Potato Chips”

I removed the head and tails and main skeleton at the kitchen countertop, serving quasi-fillets for dinner. The fish was quite juicy and tender, and probably would have benefited from even a few minutes less in the oven. I will update my recipe accordingly. And needless to say, these crispy, baked, “potato chips” were also a hit. Clean plates all around.

Now, time to focus on Thanksgiving planning. We are T minus 1 week.

Thanksgiving prep – Menu and Tools

We usually have the menu sorted out by now, but running a little late this year. The exciting news is that our guest list has more than doubled in size. Sister-in-law Rebecca and family are joining for the festive day. Here’s what we have planned (so far):

NEW ADDITIONS: Parker House Rolls and Shrimp Cocktail with Homemade Cocktail Sauce

That’s it for now – I am sure I missed something. Will prepare shopping list by Friday and need to consider what additional pots, pans and equipment we’ll need to sort out, too.

In case you are wondering, I do not eat turkey, not even on Thanksgiving. And, trust me, I don’t go hungry.

Post DIY Stock, DIY Thanksgiving Stuffing??

What comes after making your own Vegetable Stock? Thanksgiving stuffing, or dressing as called by some, cannot be far behind. Thanksgiving is all about tradition, and we have always made stuffing from the Pepperidge Farm cubed bread in a bag. But as I am getting bolder in my DIY ways, I am tempted to veer off course and try my own hand. This article by Julia Moskin from the NY Times has me thinking….

At the end of the day, the Pepperidge Farm bagged variety is nothing more than seasoned bread. But it does have a strong track record and brand.

What’s your preference?

The Best Form of Flattery…Ode to Dan’s Carrots

I love having a partner in crime and it is so fun when Dan jumps in a with a post on this blog. I thought Dan’s preparation of roasted carrots looked so interesting (not to mention his Elton John song title reference), I had to try it out for myself. Making the interesting out of the seemingly ordinary.

WSF Multi-hued Carrots ready for the oven

What I did: I washed and trimmed the WSF white and orange carrots, leaving the skin on for some rustic appeal (as Dan did). I tossed them in the pan with a hearty glug of olive oil, a sprinkle of kosher salt and a twist of fresh ground pepper. I am such a copycat, I even used the same cast iron pan as Dan. Baked for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, and then lowered the temp to 250 (per Dan’s instructions), and baked for another 20 minutes or so until they were nicely browned. I tested them with a fork and noticed that the larger carrots were still tough in the center, so removed the smaller carrots and returned the rest to the oven for another 15 minutes or so. Next time round, I’ll select all similar sized carrots for the pan.

The result:  savory and sweet, easy on the eyes, rich-tasting carrots. NOT your mama’s cooked carrots. A MUST TRY, taking preparation of an everyday vegetable to the next level.

True Confessions: I Heart Snails

As many of you know, I have been a vegetarian for a looong time (ok, pescatarian). I have not eaten meat/chicken/turkey of any kind for over a decade. But, admittedly a few escargot have passed these lips. I remember first tasting snails as a little girl. For some reason, my mom kept a set of large shells in a plastic tube and she would actually prepare escargot once in awhile. The actual snails were sold in a can, and my mom would make the decadent butter, shallot and parsley sauce. After gobbling up the snails, I’d dunk bread in the heavenly butter sauce and sop up every bit. That may be my “madeline” moment  from childhood.

Bizarre, I know. But my mom didn’t bake, so I had snails. I really don’t know how snails are categorized (fish, fowl, insect??), apart from being gastropods. Wikipedia calls them gastropod mollusks, so does that put them in the same category as fish? But the snails commonly served as escargot are definitely terrestrial, not maritime.  I guess that’s why I haven’t been able to let them go despite the fact that when I think intellectually about what I’m eating, it’s totally gross.

I enjoyed Jeff Gordinier’s tongue in cheek NY Times article entitled, “The Snail Wrangler.” It’s about the elevation of the common snail  in today’s restaurant supply chain. It reminded me of my fondness for escargot, despite the obvious contradictions with my usual eating habits.

Please don’t think less of me for divulging this weakness…and feel free to share any of yours.

Next up: Community Supported Fishing?

As you know, I am a huge fan of Community Supported Agriculture  programs (CSAs), and the state of Maine.  I’ve been reading a lot about variations on the CSA theme. Yesterday, the NY Times published an article about weekly pick-up programs for fresh fish that truly help sustain fishing villages. Patricia Leigh Brown writes about Port Clyde Fresh Catch, started a few years ago by fisherman Glen Libby in Port Clyde, Maine (clearly a story after my own heart).

Port Clyde, Maine

In an effort to protect over-fished populations, many government regulations  have hurt the commercial fishing industry.  Mr. Libby came up with the idea to sell directly to consumers on a subscription basis to help pull his community together.  Mr. Libby’s idea was to turn the business on its head and sell a “mixed bag” directly to consumers, just like CSAs, instead of via wholesalers. The beauty of it is that the fisherman can catch local fish that are sustainable, not just the high-demand fish like cod, haddock, etc.  The bonus for consumers is that they’ll be introduced to new fish and seafood, much like I am confronted with never-prepared vegetables before from my CSA, AND will consume responsibly caught fish. More opportunity to experiment and learn for the home cook – all in a way that helps the local community and our maritime friends. Win-win.

Happy reading.