Jun 5, 2015

Easy Pickle Making (Canning Not Required)

If you like pickles, go to the farmers market and grab some cucumbers.  Make this recipe ASAP.  
I made them by lacto-fermentation, which means they are power packed with probiotics.  It's a rather easy method as you will see below.

4 Reasons to Ferment Veggies

1.  Ferments build your immune system with probiotics to fight the bad bugs in your belly.
2.  Ferments provide digestive support (especially as we age, our digestive systems slow.)
3.  Ferments create enzymes that enable your body to assimilate nutrients (i.e. incorporate the healthy food you eat!)
4.  Fermenting is fun!  And easy! And you don't have to boil water and make your kitchen a sauna to get the job done.

dill, fresh or dried
other spices - mustard seed, red pepper flakes, black peppercorns, whole cloves
sea salt (iodized salt is antibacterial, we are trying to encourage bacteria to grow!)
non-chlorinated water (again, trying to grow bacteria!)
starter (I prefer using juice from either Bubbies pickles or sauerkraut)

*Local and organic produce is best.  By using local, you are getting peak freshness.  I recommend organic because the process of fermentation makes food easier to digest (see reason #2, above).  If the food is easier to digest, then any chemicals used on the veggies will be easier to digest, too.  I don't want to be digesting chemicals.  Use organic when fermenting.

**Below are the tannins I used: horseradish and oak leaves.  Pictured on the right is fresh dill (all from my garden!)
I really liked the flavor the horseradish imparted to the pickles.  However, oak is just fine, too.  You can also use grape leaves for tannins.  You definitely want to use some kind of tannin, otherwise you will have flabby pickles.

I basically used this recipe from Cultures for Health.  I didn't have mustard seed.  Other spices I used were 2 large cloves of garlic, two sprigs of dill, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and a few black peppercorns.  I followed the recipe except, I used about 1/4 cup of Bubbies juice to the half gallon jar of ferment to act as a starter.  In the quart jar, I used about 2T of Bubbies juice.  Cultures for Health doesn't mention using a starter in that recipe, but in my experience, using a starter helps to achieve a consistent and palatable flavor.

In the half gallon I used less red pepper, more oak leaves and some horseradish.   The quart jar was spicier and only used horseradish for tannins (no oak leaves).  There is a subtle oak flavor when using oak leaves, emphasis on subtle.  If I didn't tell you about the oak, you probably couldn't put your finger on it.

The picture on the left is just after assembly, the one on the right is 36 hours later.  Notice how the brine is becoming cloudier.  That means magic is happening in the jar.

 You'll see in the picture below that on the third day the jar is even cloudier.  If your kitchen is warmer than 70*, I recommend fermenting in a cooler with a block of ice (not touching).  Ferments prefer to do their magic in the 60-70* range.  Anything warmer than that can cause an imbalance of proper bacteria.  Read more about warm weather care for ferments here.  Here you will find more tips for crunchier lacto-fermented pickles.
They taste just like Bubbies brand.  One of my taste testers went so far as to say they were better.

Don't just take my word for it.  Go make some!

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Jun 2, 2015

Good Fats in My Kitchen

Thankfully the skinny is out on the low-fat diet trend.  People are opening their eyes to the wisdom of healthy traditional cultures who eat great amounts of saturated fats.  

Fat is what makes food taste good.  And it's what helps stabilize your hormones and blood sugars.  Oh, and did you know if you dehydrated your brain, half of it would be ...wait for it...FAT.  Growing children need lots of good fat.  Hormonal women need fat.  Want to think clearly?  Eat fat.  Trying to loose weight?  Eat fat.

As I was making pancakes one day, it dawned on me to write a blog post about the different kind of fats I use in the kitchen. (However, putting that thought into action has taken a month...or two.)

In no particular order, here are a few pictures and reasons I use each of these fats.

Pork Lard is excellent for frying as it lends itself well to high heat.  I don't recommend lard from the grocery store, as it has been hydrogenated for a longer shelf life.  This industrialized process deems it very unhealthy.  

Buy lard from a local farmer or render some yourself, it isn't difficult. Pigs that roam outdoors absorb vitamin D from the sun and this vitamin D is passed along to me (as opposed to industrial pork that never sees the light of day).  Eat lard and don't feel guilty.  Freckle Face Farm is usually at the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturdays.
With lard, I like to deep fry falafel, fry pancakes on the griddle, frying potatoes, making tortillas, pie crusts and even biscuits.  Some people like to pop their popcorn in lard.  However, I prefer to pop mine in a combination of coconut oil and palm oil (below, palm oil is the reddish orange oil).  Movie popcorn originally used palm oil (thus the nice orange color of popcorn at the theater).
Coconut oil can be used in baking or frying.  Unrefined coconut oil will impart a bit of a coconut flavor, whereas lard is a neutrally flavored fat.  I have purchased gallons coconut oil from Tropical Traditions and Mountain Rose Herbs and prefer the latter.

Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat.  If you roast a chicken, or cook one in a crock pot, the fat that rises to the top of the broth is schmaltz.  It can be skimmed and used for frying and lower temperatures.  I like to sauté veggies, especially onions in schmaltz.
Butter - oh man, do we eat some butter.  In the winter it seems we eat almost twice as much as the rest of the year.  It is not uncommon for our family of 5 to eat 2 pounds a week.  We slather butter on most anything (my husband has been known to put it on bananas!)  One of the many benefits of butter is that it is already packaged in handy proportions.  You will find conventional butter (not organic) in my fridge most days because I'd break the bank buying organic butter.  The way I figure it, the majority of my family's fats are from clean, local sources so I don't feel guilty about buying conventional butter.  I buy organic butter occasionally - esp. if it is on sale.

Not pictured:
Tallow - rendered beef fat can be used similarly as pork lard.  Currently I do not have any in my kitchen but when I do, we like to fry potatoes in it.

Bacon grease -  It's like gold.  I save it in a jar in the fridge - it will keep for months.  My favorite application is to flavor sautéed kale or fry eggs (lard is good for eggs too).  I've even used bacon grease to make a maple/bacon salad dressing.  Bacon is good on everything. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - I buy at least a gallon a year from Chaffin Family Orchards and use it for salad dressing and mayonnaise.

For salads, we also add nuts, cheese and avocado for more satiating power.

Toasted Expeller Pressed Sesame Oil - frying Asian inspired foods at higher temps and in salad dressing.  I use it sparingly because the flavor can be quite strong.

Grapeseed Oil - this isn't a super healthy oil but it has a neutral flavor and I feel it is better for me than canola oil.  I use equal portions of grape seed and olive oil when making mayonnaise.

Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Butter Oil from Green Pasture.  These are used as supplements (aka vitamins). 

Which fats have I forgotten?  Do you have a favorite?

Eat some healthy fat at every meal,

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