Friday, April 29, 2011


Sauerkraut and kim chi are both essentially lacto-fermented cabbage. In the case of kim chi, other vegetables, spices, and sometimes even shrimp are added to the cabbage. Having made both kim chi and sauerkraut, I can assure you that they are both super easy to make! If you have never had lacto-fermented vegetables before, they have a pleasantly sour, salty flavor, retain their crunchy texture and - this is the best part - keep forever, or at least a year or so in the fridge.

Or just ferment it!
 Living in the age of refrigeration makes us think that leaving food out for even a couple hours will kill you, but in many cases that is just not true. Lacto-fermentation is extremely safe, even safer than water bath canning, because there is no chance of botulism. The fermentation process allows "good" microorganisms to outcompete those that might make you sick.

 I can think of no better way to preserve an abundance of cabbage for the winter months, and guys, you don't even have to can it! The fermentation process is all you need to do, and that basically amounts to letting it sit out for a few days. You can't go wrong here.

Pink kraut!

Here is what you need to make sauerkraut:
1 cabbage, red or green or half and half!
A quart sized mason jar, or non-metallic crock with a lid
2-4 teaspoons or salt, to taste
A big wooden spoon, or potato masher, or meat hammer, or some other blunt heavy object
Large bowl

For kimchi:
All the equipment listed above
1 napa cabbage
3-4 teaspoons of salt, or more
A bunch of scallions
1 bulb garlic
2 inches ginger
4 or more red chilis
1 daikon radish
4 carrots (optional)

Here is what you do. Take the cabbage, peel off the outer leaves and give it a good wash. I have read in some places that you should use only organic cabbage because conventional cabbage will not ferment properly. This is bunk. Use what you have and ignore the crazies.

Cut the cabbage in half (length ways for napa) and then cut out the core. Lay each half on the flat side and slice the cabbage into fairly thin ribbons - maybe half an inch or so. Precision is not critical. For kimchi I like to cut the cabbage into two inch or so chunks. Chop up the other vegetables and spices as well.

Place the shredded cabbage, and for kimchi, the other vegetables and spices, in the large bowl with the salt and pound the bajeezus out of it. The cabbage will start to release its water as a result of being pounded - the salt aids in this as well.

You should be able to see the juice when you tip the bowl..
Pound until it is really juicy, then pack it in the mason jar, or crock, and add enough salt water to cover. Some folks recommend weighing down the cabbage with a (clean) rock to keep it under the water, but personally I haven't had any trouble just capping it as long as you make sure it is submerged in brine. I like to check it every day, and use a spoon to pack it down after taking a sample. If you are using a jar, screw the lid on loosely to allow gas and brine to escape during fermentation. Keep a dish under the jar to catch any liquid that comes out.

Leave the jars out for a few days to a week, until it stops bubbling. You can potentially leave it out at room temperature, but it will continue to ferment and get more sour if you do this. I have eaten kraut that was kept in a basement for five months - this is a preservation technique, after all - but I recommend refrigerating it once it tastes good to you, at least at first, until you get a better idea of how it will taste as it progresses.

That's all there is to it, folks. Kimchi fried rice is a delicious meal for those days when you are out of fresh vegetables and your blood sugar is too low to allow for a trip to the store ... at least, that's been my experience.

My first kimchi ever. I had three quarts, but this is the lone survivor of The Great Pickled Vegetable Consumption of 2011.
If you want to learn more about making sauerkraut or kimchi, I highly recommend Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. It is pretty much The Holy Book of Fermentation.

I leave you on this final note.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cider is awesome! Put yeast in juice! Drink!

Warning: This post may have been written under the influence of hard cider. 

Twenty bottles of cider - that's a lot of booze.

I'm not a beer drinker, and while I like wine, I love cider! Wine is perfect for romantic, swanky dinners, but for a casual meal, you can't go wrong with cider. If you've never fermented your own alcohol before, don't despair; cider is as simple as it gets.

What you need:
Fermentation vessel, either a plastic bucket with a lid or a large glass jar (carboy) with a stopper.
Air lock
Juice, added Vitamin C is ok, added preservatives are not. Check the label.
Yeast, either liquid, such as Wyeast Cider Yeast, or dry, such as Nottingham Ale.
Bottles, 16oz or 750 ml
Siphon hose
Campden tablets, bleach water, or vinegar.
Racking cane, optional

The bucket should be food grade, with a lid that has a hole for an air lock. I use a six gallon size. These, and the yeast, are easily obtained from your Local Homebrew Store, or you can order them online. I spent about $50 to get set up on my first cider – that may sound like a lot, but when you consider the cost of a six-pack is easily $10, that I got twenty 750ml bottles out of it, and that I will continue to reuse the bucket and air lock for future brewing, it's pretty cheap!

For my first cider, I stuck to the basics. I used five gallons of locally grown Colorado apple juice, a vial of Wyeast Cider Yeast, a 6 gallon plastic fermentation bucket, and racking cane and hose. I obtained the juice from a local grocery and the bucket, yeast, siphon hose, and racking cane from my Friendly Local Homebrew Store (Hop To It!) in Boulder, Colorado – hence forth known as the FLHBS. Five gallon buckets from Home Depot work, too, just make sure it's food grade.

I has a bucket.
If you want to start small, I recommend buying your juice in one gallon glass jugs. You just add the yeast and pop on the stopper and airlock! Who knew booze could be so easy?



Start with room temperature juice. If you are using liquid yeast, let it come to room temperature, too. When I made my first cider it was January and bloody cold, so I set my juice on the radiator to warm up a bit. Just don't melt your juice jugs. While you are waiting for things to warm up, sanitize your bucket, and airlock. You can use diluted bleach water (one tablespoon per gallon of water), or vinegar, but I use Campden tablets (one tablet per gallon). Put the airlock in the bucket, add your sanitizer, and swish it all around. Make sure to sanitize the lid, too. If you are using Campden tablets, you don't have to rinse anything, just dump the solution out before you pour in your juice. If you are using bleach water, or vinegar, give everything a good rinse before adding anything else. When your juice is no longer cold, pour it all into the bucket, and add the yeast. Snap on the lid, or, if you are using glass jars, the stopper, and add the airlock. I fill my airlock with hard liquor to keep out any airborne microbes that may infiltrate the yeast population - I used applejack, because I had it. Some people use Everclear to ensure maximum booziness, but you can also use water.

Now all you do is wait. I let my first cider ferment for a month, but that's not a hard and fast rule. Some books say to let it wait six months, and others say ten days. The important thing is to wait until it the airlock stops bubbling – that means the yeast have consumed all the sugar and your cider is pretty much done. If the airlock still bubbles once every two minutes or more, give it some more time before you bottle. Bottling too early can lead to bottle bombs - you don't want to mess with that. 

After a month, I bottled my cider, using 750 ml clasp top glass bottles from my FLHBS. You can also recycle old beer bottles or wine bottles, but you have to buy a capper or corker, and new caps or corks. I dig clasp top bottles, because you can reuse them indefinitely without throwing away caps or corks.

Those are Campden tablets, I swear.
If you want sparkling cider, all you have to do is add some sugar when bottling, two teaspoons per gallon. Add the sugar to the bucket and stir, then let it sit to allow the sediment to settle back down to the bottom. Don't add more than this – see above warning about bottle bombs. I also used a racking cane and siphon hose to bottle my cider. You can do without the racking cane, but you have to suck the hose to get it flowing, and use your (clean!) finger to stopper it between bottles. I find the racking cane to be less sticky and more sanitary. Just attach the hose to the cane end of the racking cane, put the end of the hose in a bottle, pump the cane a few times to get the cider flowing, and continue with each bottle. Stop before you get to the very bottom - that's where the yeast goes to die.


I let my cider age in bottles for a month before drinking. Like wine, it gets better with time, and so far every bottle is smoother than the last. Some books I have read recommend waiting at least six months before drinking - if you have the patience, go for it! I started drinking the still cider after a month, and the sparkling after a few months. I recommend chilling sparkling cider before opening, unless you want a dramatic cider-splosion! Be sure to always put away a few bottles for future drinking. After a year or two your cider may have transformed into something amazing.

For a very easy to understand, simple, and interesting introduction to homebrewing, check out Strong Waters, by Scott Mansfeld.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Basic Whole Wheat Bread

If you have never made bread at home before, this is a good first loaf to try. A lot of people are intimidated by bread making that isn't done by machine, but there is no reason to be! It does take a lot of time, up to 7 hours, but most of that time is spent waiting around doing nothing while the bread rises or bakes. Have a free day on the weekend that you are planning on spending on the couch playing video games? Why not have bread rising while you laze around! There is only about an hour of active work involved, and you get two loaves out of it, that are way tastier than any pre-sliced commercial wheat bread you can buy in the grocery store.

I learned to bake bread from Laurel's Kitchen, an old vegetarian hippie cookbook I found at a thrift store a couple years ago. It has a lot of advice that is useful for novice vegetarians, but if you can get a hold of the New Laurel's Kitchen, or the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, I prefer those, as they are a little less dated - unless you want to learn how to make nutritional yeast butter. My technique and knowledge of bread mostly come from those books, and if you want to learn more about baking with whole wheat, check them out!

This recipe includes yogurt and honey, but if you would like to skip those, you can sub an additional cup of water for the yogurt, and sugar for the honey, for a vegan bread. We'll just ignore the yeasties, I suppose.

Whole Wheat Yogurt Bread 
1/2 c warm water
2 t yeast
5 1/2 c whole wheat flour (I use stoneground organic, alternatively use a medium or coarsely ground flour)
2 t salt
2/3 c plain yogurt
1/4 c honey
1/4 c olive oil
1 c warm water 

Mix the yeast and the half cup of  warm water together until the yeast is all wet. Laurel's Kitchen says to make sure that every single grain is wet, but guys, be realistic. Be sure to stir your flour before your measure it, to make sure it isn't packed down - too much flour will make your bread rock-like. In a large bowl (the dough will double in size), mix the flour and salt. Then use your spoon to kind of scoop the flour up the sides of the bowl to form a well in the center. Into the well, add the yogurt, honey, olive oil, cup of warm water, and the yeast and water mixture.

Stir from the middle out, until almost all of the flour is incorporated - you will know when to stop, because it gets harder to stir. Now for the lazing! Cover your bowl with a damp towel and let it sit for half an hour. This is to allow the flour to absorb the water and make the dough easier to handle.


After half an hour is up, we knead. Kneading is a sort of art form. Knead too much, your gluten comes undone. Knead too little, and we're back to rock loaves. I started out kneading by hand, but I have an old wrist injury that makes kneading pretty painful, so I now use a food processor to do the work for me.

I slaved over this food processor all day for you.

Kneading by hand is basically the process of pushing, punching, and folding the dough against a counter. This activates the gluten, which makes the bread soft, chewy, and high rising. Your dough may start off a little sticky, but try not to add too much flour during kneading. Putting a little olive oil on your hands will help with this problem. About half way through the kneading process, the dough will stop being sticky, and start getting soft and springy. This is good, but it doesn't mean you are done. I knead by hand for about ten more minutes after the dough hits this point, but it could take you a little more or less time, depending on your strength and, uh ... vigor. When your dough is ready, it will feel very soft, springy, and stretchy. If it's not stretchy that means the gluten isn't developed, so keep kneading until it is.

Only the bottom portion of dough has been kneaded.

The hard part is over. Really! Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let it rise. The rising time depends on the temperature of your kitchen. Hotter = a faster rise. Ideal temperatures are between 60 and 90 degrees F. At 60 degrees the dough could take up to four hours for the first rise, at 90, as little as an hour and a half. You can speed it along by putting the dough in the oven with the light on, but! The bread will taste better, and keep better, if you let it take its sweet time! You will know the dough is ready to punch down when you poke it, and the hole you make stays, and does not  start filling back in. If it does start filling back in, you need to wait a bit longer.

Twice poked dough. See how the poke on the right filled in, but the poke on the left stayed?

Punch the dough down and form it back into a ball. Let it rise a second time. This usually takes only about half as long as the first rise. So if your kitchen is around 60 degrees, and it took four hours for the first rise, assume it will take another two hours for the second rise.

After applying the highly scientific and accurate finger poke test, and determining that your dough is again ready to punch down, you are ready to shape the loaves. Now is the time to preheat the oven to 400F. This recipe makes two loaves. I like to make one free form and one rectangular pan loaf ... also I only have one loaf pan. To shape, divide the dough in half,  and flatten half into a circle. For a round loaf, fold the edges of the circle into the middle and then turn it upside down, and use your hands to form it into a ball. For a rectangular pan loaf, flatten the dough into a vaguely rectangular shape, roll it up and pinch the edges together. Make sure the seam where you pinched the dough together is on the bottom when you put the dough in the pan to rise.

Let it rise one final time - this time will only take half an hour to an hour. When the dough has about doubled, or is at the top of your loaf pan, slash the top with whatever pattern you like, just try not to cut too deep - only about 1/4 of an inch. Turn the oven down to 375F and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. How do you know when the bread is done? It should have risen a little more in the oven, have a brown, crispy crust, and sound hollow when you thump on the bottom of the loaf.

Two delicious loaves of bread.
 I usually make one raisin and one plain loaf. To make raisin bread, just knead in the raisins and other goodies before shaping. I like to add raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, and sometimes a little molasses. You can switch this up all kinds of ways with pretty much any kind of dried fruit  and / or nut variation. For the raisin haters I recommend cranberry walnut.

For comparison, here are my first two loaves ever. I can now tell you from my long months of baking expertise, that these were under-kneaded, and underproofed (I didn't let them rise long enough), and thus dense and crumbly.
 Your first loaves of bread will probably not be perfect - mine certainly weren't! But they will almost certainly taste good, and you will only get better from here. Also nothing smells as nice as baking bread, so ditch the febreeze and get baking!

This recipe was adapted from the "Yogurt Bread" recipe from The New Laurel's Kitchen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sourdough Pancakes

So you have this little starter. Or perhaps it's not so little anymore. You feed it, and water it, you sing to it at bedtime. You nurture it, from flour and water, to a living, breathing creature. Think of it as a pet. Or rather, millions of little pets. Anyway. You put all this time and energy into creating something, and then, according to many sourdough recipes, you throw it away. Just chuck half of it daily.

I want you to join me in Just Saying No to throwing away perfectly good food. If nothing else, it costs you money. You wouldn't throw away money, would you? Heck no. What would your mama think?

So what is a person to do with this abundant starter, especially if it isn't ready to make bread with? The answer, my friends, is pancakes. Or muffins. Or any quick bread type application. Just because your starter isn't ready to leaven bread doesn't mean it can't be eaten! Quick breads are leavened with baking powder, or soda, or a combination, and thus don't require yeast to rise, which makes them a perfect home for your immature starter. Even better, this pancake recipe calls for two whole cups of starter - more than used for bread!

Enough jibber jabber. On to - PANCAKES!

Sourdough Pancakes

2 cups starter
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg
4 T melted butter, cooled
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1 T warm water

Combine the dry ingredients, then add the wet ingredients, except baking soda and warm water, and mix. Dissolve soda in warm water, and add last, folding in gently until combined, immediately before cooking. Unlike regular pancakes, bubbles on the edge do not indicate done-ness. Cook until all the bubbles pop, and the pancake is visibly cooked mostly through on the first side, then flip, and cook a couple more minutes until brown on both sides. Feeds two hungry people, usually on Saturday mornings, with fried eggs, maple syrup, and coffee.

Can you substitute stuff? Heck yes! If you are vegan, you could simply sub coconut oil or olive oil for butter, and a tablespoon of ground flax and three tablespoons of water for the egg. Easy as pancakes! In fact, I have accidentally made these with no egg before, and my partner said he preferred them that way. If you have objections to sugar, you could use honey or maple syrup (maybe even agave?) in place of it. I hear you can make starter with non-wheat flour, too, for gluten avoiding types, but I don't know enough about that to recommend it. If it intrigues you, I recommend further research.

This recipe was adapted from Heavenly Homemakers myriad sourdough pancake recipes. They have an amazing whole wheat sourdough recipe collection, so if you are experiencing an abundance of starter, check them out! If you have an aversion to religiousity mixed in with good sense recipes, however, consider yourself forewarned.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How To - Sourdough Starter

Welcome to the DIY Revolution! Why DIY? Some folks do it to save money, to cut back on fossil fuel use, to avoid processed food, to get back to basics, to learn ancestral skills, and to avoid the impending zombie  apocalypse. Whatever your reasons are, they are good reasons. Therefore, I am going to skip over all that and focus on the practical.

I love bread. When I began baking at home, I was satisfied with replacing my previous whole wheat bread with homemade, but I missed sourdough. I assumed that sourdough was out of my league. I was just a lowly novice. And, didn't you need some 100 year old starter? Where the hell was I supposed to find that? Luckily for me, I came across some information on the interwebs about making your own starter. Basically it came down to, mix flour and water. Wait. Add more. Wait.

Everything I ever knew about sourdough was wrong. My world was changed. Forever. Sourdough needn't be descended from hardy wild yeast strains first captured by crusty miners. You can make it, and guys, it is easy! You are about to be inducted into the world of sourdough. Hold on to your hats.

This, and water, is all you need to make starter.

Day 1 - Get yourself a mason jar. The quart size, guys, not a pint. Into this holy vessel, put ye one third of a cup of flour of the refined variety. Also add ye one third of a cup of water - not overly chlorinated, lest ye piss off the yeasties - so, filtered, preferably. Stir this concoction with a spoon hand-carved of the wood of the olive tree. Or any old non-metallic spoon. Place the lid upon the vessel. Let sit for 24 hours.

I love you, Mason jars.

Day 2 - Add a third of a cup of water, and a third of a cup of flour while chanting or saying a prayer (optional) and stirring (mandatory).

Days 3-6 - Continue in this fashion for four more days. If your jar runneth over, try making some sourdough pancakes.

The first signs of life - bubbles!

Day 7 - Examine your sourdough. Take a big whiff. Does it smell alcoholic and sour? Is there a layer of scary looking bubbly liquid on top? If so, congratulations! You have made sourdough! In my experience, you can tell when a starter is viable (harboring the yeast populations needed to leaven bread) by smell, as it will go from smelling bloody awful to smelling like sourdough within a few days. However, I am a smell-oriented person. If you are not, wait an extra week to be sure. Keep feeding your starter every day. If it is bubbling, and there is a layer of liquid (known as the "hooch" - yes, it is really hooch, but I don't recommend drinking it - don't ask how I know) on top, you are on the right track.

If, after two weeks, you have seen no signs of life in your starter, and it looks and smells just like water and flour, something has gone wrong. Perhaps there were not enough wild yeasts in your flour, or your water was too chlorinated. Try again using organic flour and boiled water. Have patience.

Day Post-Readyness - After your starter smells like sourdough, or two weeks, you can keep it in the fridge for up to a week without feeding it. Those little yeasty beasties will just hibernate until you are ready to use them. Take the starter out of the fridge the day before you want to bake with it, and when it reaches room temperature, feed it. After you use it, feed it again before you put it back  in the fridge.

Sourdough - magical, mystical, and obtainable. Also delicious. There you have it, folks.

Next up! Sourdough pancakes, aka, why you shouldn't toss your starter. (Hint - because it is delicious).