Jul 30, 2014

Lacto-fermented Tomatoes (juice or salsa)

Anyone tired of me going on and on about the beauty of lacto-ferementing veggies?  Wait, don't answer that.

Today I am fermenting tomatoes.  This could be one of my favorite and tastiest ferments.  It doesn't have the traditional "pickled" taste that most ferments possess.  When tomatoes are fermented it brings a depth of flavor that is similar to V-8 juice.  (Probiotic Bloody Mary anyone? :)  Taking a shot of fermented tomato juice could be a good option for those who want food probiotics but don't like the taste or texture of sauerkraut.

While I don't particularly enjoy V-8 juice as a drink, I LOVE using it in soups in the winter.  Doesn't heating ferments destroy their beneficial bacteria?  Yes, it does.  I ferment tomatoes because it is hands down the easiest way to preserve a handful of tomatoes.  No super-hot kitchens from boiling or special equipment needed for canning.

As I mentioned, I only had a handful of tomatoes that I wanted to preserve.  I chopped an onion and two not-hot jalapeños to bulk up the jar so that my jar wouldn't have too much extra air.
 Last week, I threw everything in my blender and that was faster than chopping.  As I chopped today, I wondered why I didn't just blend again...  The half-gallon jar on the right is lacto-fermented tomato juice from last week.  I threw it all in a blender because I'm lazy I didn't want to have to run it through a sieve to remove the littlest bits.
After stirring my jar, I realized I still had more head room than I wanted.  Half the jar was empty and I was out of tomatoes.  What's a girl to do?  I added about a cup of tomato juice from last week.  It acts as my starter (or whey or Bubbies juice) as well as take up space in the jar.  For each quart of tomatoes, I use 1 tablespoon of sea salt (non-iodized) and 4 tablespoons of whey or starter.  Recipe for fermented salsa here.  I let both tomato juice and salsa ferment 2 days on the counter then removed to cold storage.
 A word about the funky apparatus on the top called an air-lock...
You can lacto-ferment in any jar as long as your veggies are submerged in brine (salt water).  A fancy air-lock is not necessary.

So why do I use an air-lock?

'Cause I got one.  I also use mason jars, aplenty.  After reading about the benefits of using Pickl-It from other bloggers as well as on the Pickl-It website I was curious.  The air-lock on the top allows pressure out of the jar while preventing more air (or new microbes) inside.   Some say this system prevents common problems with mold and yeast.  Some say an anaerobic system makes more pleasant tasting ferments.

Just a few minutes away from placing my order for a Pickl-It jar,  a friend of mine said her husband could drill holes in Fido jars.  I happened to have a Fido jar that I could use for this purpose.  The air-lock is from Fermentables, the wine/beer making store in North Little Rock.  So for a fraction of the cost I am testing a homemade Pickl-It jar.

My friend's husband will drill holes for you for $5/lid but he wants a minimum of 4 lids per order to make it worth the effort of setting up the drill, etc.  Email me:: luvmyhub AT gmail.com and I'll send you contact info.  This will save you a ton of cash because shipping big glass jars costs a small fortune these days.  You can find the Fido jars at TJ Maxx or from Crate & Barrel.  You can also purchase parts from Primal Kitchen, who also sells a different silicone valve that is space saving.

Disclaimer: I don't make any money from this blog.  Just tellin' my friends what works for me.

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Jul 27, 2014

Reducing Caffeine in Coffee

I can hear some of you questioning now.  Why on earth would someone want to reduce caffeine intake from coffee?  Isn't that the precise reason one drinks coffee...for the caffeine?

Well, I am super-sensitive to caffeine.  As in, I can't drink decaf coffee after lunch else I am awake until 3am.  I even have to severely limit my chocolate intake after dinner.

It is a curse.

I drink my (decaf) coffee first thing in the morning because I enjoy the ritual and the taste.  And to be honest I need something to heat up my cream.

Last summer, looking to try something new, I bought a can of Cafe du Monde coffee from Whole Foods.  {I know the coffee snobs are cringing that I bought ground coffee...in a can!} Those of you who have been to N'awlins have probably tasted their beignets and coffee right at their stand.  That's where I fell in love with chicory.
Chicory has a distinct flavor and is bitter (like coffee) except it is caffeine free.  In the Civil War it was used as a coffee substitute.

After drinking Cafe du Monde's coffee for a while I wanted more chicory and less coffee so I made my own mix.  Now I buy a box of chicory (from WF or Drug Emporium for $2.50 for 6oz) and mix 1 part chicory with 2 parts coffee.

If you are sensitive to caffeine or are looking for a way to limit caffeine give chicory a try.


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Jul 18, 2014

Salsa: Probiotic Style

Now is the time to preserve the bounty of summer.  Using a pressure cooker scares the buh-gee-bies out of me.  Fermenting, however, is super simple.  If you have extra refrigerator space, this is the way to preserve food.  This salsa is so yummy though, it's not gonna last long.  And, making salsa this way will inoculate your gut with healthy bacteria to keep you from falling prey to the bad bacteria that make you sick.
My goal is to get my family to eat something fermented at every meal.  My kids pick kombucha for breakfast and lunch.  When Hubby is home for dinner, we gang up on the kids and make them eat veggies...lacto-fermented veggies!  I have a shelf in the refrigerator that is dedicated to ferments.  Before dinner, I choose a jar that pairs with our meal.  Sometimes we just eat a tablespoon or two.  Sometimes we eat much more than the minimum.  I have a feeling this salsa will go quick.

Below are tomatillos I grew in my garden.  They are delish and taste somewhat like a tomato, but with a hint of apple and onion.  If you wanted to heat up your oven, you could roast these babies first.  I was feeling lazy wanted to knock out this project so I didn't roast.
I combined the tomatillos with half an onion, a couple small tomatoes and a jalapeño.  Sprinkle it with a hearty dose of salt (1T) and some juice (4T) from a jar of Bubbies sauerkraut (or another ferment or whey from yogurt).

Stir the combination around and push into a quart jar.  Make sure all the chunky pieces are under liquid.  If you don't have enough to fill the jar, chop up another tomato.  Or onion.  Or whatever.  Stir it in the jar and push all the chunks under the liquid.  Screw a lid on (no pressure cooker needed!) and let it sit.
After 2 days move to cold storage.  Or eat immediately.  Yumma.
 And just for bonus... this cutie-patootie:
Anyone else lovin' this July weather?!  Head on out to the farmers market and grab some Arkansas tomatoes today.


*Cultures for Health says you can use 2 teaspoons (about 1T) of salt and not use whey.  Check out their recipe.

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Jul 15, 2014

Batch Making Burrito Basics

A friend, her teenage daughter, and I knocked out 60 burritos in about an hour this morning.  Well, we assembled 60 burritos in an hour.  Much of the work was done in advance in bite sized pieces. My friend and I each went home with 30 burritos - or 6 meals for my family!

These burritos are perfect for when your family is on the go (i.e. need to be on the baseball field at dinner time?)  Or if you are crazy busy and just want an easy, quick, nutritious dinner option.

Because I use this blog as a personal cooking notebook of sorts, I thought it would be helpful to record the portions in this space.

60 large burrito shells
3 large roasts (about 16-17 pounds, total), shredded
16 cups cheese, shredded
4 cups (dry) brown rice, soaked and cooked in broth
2 pounds dry pinto beans, soaked and cooked with ham bone
2 pounds dry black beans, soaked and cooked
5 pounds onions, sliced and roasted at 425*
10 bell peppers, various colors, sliced and roasted

More Cooking Details
The roasts were cooked in a crock pot on low overnight with a rub made of 2 parts chili powder, 1 part of (each) sea salt, cumin, garlic powder.  Onion powder would have been good, too but I didn't have any.  You could add a can of tomatoes but we didn't.  Save the broth and use it for a Mexican inspired soup.

After the pinto beans were cooked, I poured off most of the water and used my immersion blender to make them like refried beans.  You could also do this with a potato masher - or leave them as beans.  I like the texture of pinto beans in my burritos.  Any kind will do.  I seasoned them with salt, spicy paprika, chili powder, cumin and garlic powder.  If I had more jalapenos growing in my garden, I would have chopped them up and added them.

One pound of dry beans is equivalent to 5-6 cans.  You could save time by buying cans - be sure to drain and rinse canned beans.  I figure if I'm going to make such crazy amounts of food, it is easy enough to cook dry beans.  Beans can be cooked in a crock pot; it's not that much trouble.

As for roasting the onions and peppers, the reason is to remove some water before freezing.  Doing this step not only enhances flavor but also keeps the burritos from being too soggy after they are thawed.  You can omit them all together if your crew does not prefer them.  Also, caramelizing onions is a super-yumma-lish option but takes a bit more time.

All ingredients were approximately divided among three very large bowls.  We used one crockpot as a bowl since it was already dirty full of shredded meat.  Mix everything together and taste.  Ours needed more salt; otherwise the spices were right.

We have a tutorial here on how to roll and package burritos.

To Heat
Place frozen foil wrapped burrito in a crockpot and turn to high for about 3-4 hours.  If you can, turn mid way through cooking.  If they are thawed, it will take less time.

If you like the tortilla texture crispy like a chimichanga, heat in the oven.  Unwrap (thawed) burrito, slather in butter & bake on a cookie sheet at 375* till golden. About 15-20 minutes.  I use the foil as a barrier on the cookie sheet for easy clean up.

Serve with sour cream and sauerkraut or other ferment of choice.   My favorite ferment pairing is radish relish, followed by sauerkraut and banana peppers or jalapeños.

Other links:
Stewed Chicken for Burritos
Carnitas (Pork) for Burritos

Anyone else batch-making these days?  Are these kind of posts helpful or I should I just write this down in a kitchen notebook?


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Jul 14, 2014

Quick Tip for Packing Lunches

Lunch tip - make several individual bags on Sunday night for the rest of the week.

My oldest son and daughter are both in day camps this week.  They I need to pack lunch everyday.

Sunday night, I popped 3 batches of popcorn, stovetop in coconut oil then bagged it.  My neighbor, whose children are also in camps this week, peeled, sliced and bagged carrots.

We swapped portions.

I gave her bags of popcorn and she gave me bags of carrots.  (I added cucumbers from my garden for my veggie-loving daughter.)

Now lunch making is a breeze because two items from their lunches are already bagged and waiting.


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Jul 13, 2014

How to Cut a Watermelon for a Party

A friend showed me how to do this a few years ago.  It's genius.  Everyone gets a slice and you don't spend ten years cutting it up.  It can be done for a watermelon or cantaloupe.

First you buy a melon from your farmers market.  This one came from Laughing Stock Farms.
Then you lop off both ends.  It helps to have a sharp knife.  I love my Global.
Cut it in half and lay one (big side) face down.
Cut a wedge.
Make slices all around, like the spokes of a wheel.
Put a bowl on top of the melon.  If you have a cute or fancy bowl, the melon will taste better.
Now flip.  You could do this with a cutting board or a cookie sheet.

Invite your hungry friends to join you.

Anyone want to guess hold old that picture is?  This post was originally published four years ago.

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Jul 11, 2014

Ant ANTic Anecdote?

At the beginning of every summer for several consecutive years, the sweet ants raid my kitchen.  They are quite annoying.  You know those tiny little things that are drawn to any crumb or spill even remotely sweet?

When ants invaded this year, I set out a small spoonful of cornmeal.  I'd read this anecdote on the internet somewhere.

{Did you know the countertop spray 409 will kill ants instantly?  For that reason, 409 is considered bug spray in our home.  I do not clean countertops with poison.}
 For hours the ants worked feverishly carrying off the golden mound.  By dark their numbers had dwindled.  The next morning their work resumed around 8:30.  I was a bit skeptical the cornmeal would work, when at 10am they were marching around in legions. But by noon, which was about 24 hours after placing the cornmeal in my window sill, they were almost gone.
It's been several days and they are still gone.

The next time you have an ant infestation, try a mound of cornmeal.  It's not poison.  And it just might work.


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