Fried Beef Liver with Bacon, Mushroom and Sage: A.K.A. The Liver Recipe That Will Convert The Die-Hard Liver Hater

 

Fried Beef Liver with Bacon, Mushroom and Sage: A.K.A. The Liver Recipe That Will Convert The Die-Hard Liver HaterLiver.

Any Traditional Foods/Weston A. Price groupie worth her weight in raw pastured butter knows how incomparably valuable the stuff is. It’s practically nutritional gold. Organ meats are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available to humans, and for that reason have been considered sacred to many traditional cultures. It’s especially wonderful for pregnant women or couples trying to conceive, as it’s packed with beneficial nutrients for growing babies (like folate, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, D, B6 and B12. It’s also a great source of protein, and contains riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, copper and selenium. In other words: it’s pretty friggin’ amazing.)

Liver is also a frugal choice — it’s usually quite inexpensive. And being able to use the whole beast reduces waste.

Just too bad it tastes so darn awful.

Or does it?

My Conversion from Liver Hater to Enthusiast

I have never like beef liver.

Now I am not a picky eater. I will eat just about anything. Exotic, spicy, sour, bitter, fermented . . . I just love food. Vegetables, seafood, meat, grains, dairy, all of it. Thai, Mexican, Lebanese, Greek, Italian . . . YUM. All different textures, all different flavours. You’d be hard-pressed to find something I wouldn’t eat. And I love trying new things and experimenting in the kitchen.

And I’m not particularly squeamish, either — I can eat other organ meats just fine. I’m actually quite fond of chicken liver, and I grew up fighting my siblings for chicken hearts and stomachs.

But I’ve just never cared for beef liver. I just couldn’t get past that bitter, metallic flavour and stringy texture.

My mom used to make a stew with liver, tomatoes, and corn, and I always wanted to cry when I heard it was for dinner. It was torture having to eat that stuff.

But I know how good it is for me. And I have access to more pastured beef liver than anyone could dream of wanting:  my parents raise their own beef cattle, and every year we get half a beef. It typically comes with a package or two of liver (as well as soup bones, tongue, and kidney, if we ask for it.)

This last year, I ended up with EIGHT packages of liver. Holy smokes!

But what to do with the stuff to make it edible?

I tried for years to like it, to no avail.

Until I tried (Not Your Average) Liver and Onions from Edible Aria.

This recipe changed my life.

Not only could I stomach it; I loved it! It was delicious!

Liver and Onions Frying

My husband and two-year-old daughter agree. I have made this dish three times in the last year or so, and each time we have all happily cleared our plates and gone for seconds. I could not believe this was the same thing I had hated for so many years.

The original recipe is rather vague in its quantities and instructions, so I thought I’d offer a more precise and thorough version (with minor tweaks).

If you eat it with an open mind, I think you will be amazed. Unless you don’t like mushrooms or bacon, in which case I can’t help you.

Notes:

It is my opinion that every ingredient in this recipe is essential to making it delicious. But especially the sage, bacon (LOTS of bacon), fresh parsley (it MUST be fresh), and mushrooms. You just need them.

Also: In the past I have rinsed my sliced liver with water and then soaked it in a small amount of milk for about half an hour. Legend has it that this gets rid of the strong organ-y flavour. I thought it was really effective — it came out really mild-tasting. But then this last time I skipped the soaking, and couldn’t really tell the difference. But if you really want to avoid the strong flavour, you can always try it. It can’t hurt. Just be sure to drain it and dry well with paper towel after so it will fry well.

Also be sure to remove as much of the outer membrane as possible. As you slice, you generally can peel it off. It helps eliminate any funky texture.

Liver and Onions Ingredients

Beef Liver with Bacon, Mushrooms and Sage

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg liver (about 1 ½ lb), sliced
  • 1 cup flour (any kind)
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 pkg bacon, roughly chopped (about 12 oz)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 8oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped (or a tsp of dried)
  • Small bunch parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Lard or tallow as needed

Method

Mix salt, flour, and pepper in a large plate; set aside. (You will be dredging the liver in this, but you don’t want to do it too early.)

Fry bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add onion to pan and continue to cook in bacon fat until well browned. Remove with a slotted spoon (just add it to the cooked bacon you’ve set aside).

Add butter to the hot pan and combine with the remaining bacon fat. Add mushrooms and sauté until they begin to crisp on the edges. (Add lard or tallow as needed). Remove from pan.

Meanwhile, lightly dredge liver in flour mixture.

Make sure that the skillet is still good and hot, then add strips of floured liver and fry in batches until crispy. When it’s all fried, add everything back to pan along with sage and parsley. Cook until liver is cooked through.

Sprinkle with a little more parsley and be amazed that this fantastic dish contains more nutrients than you can count on your fingers.

Fried Beef Liver With Bacon, Mushrooms and Sage, AKA The Liver Recipe that will Convert the Die-Hard Liver Hater

A Minimalist Bridal Registry: Tools for a Lifetime of Fabulous Food

minimalist bridal registryImage by JD Hancock

I don’t believe in owning a lot, but I do believe in owning some good kitchen tools. Being able to cook for yourself is, in my opinion, the most important step in self-sufficiency. It will save you money, it’s good for the planet, it’s good for your health, and will provide a lifetime of delight and satisfaction. Having a kitchen stocked with quality tools will make cooking that much easier and more enjoyable.

In my last post on creating a minimalist bridal registry, I suggested some of guiding principles when putting together a registry:

  • Look for durable items.
  • Look for classic styles that won’t quickly go out of date.
  • Avoid plastic.
  • Avoid items that only serve one purpose.

I also offered a list of common kitchen items I don’t really recommend. Today, I’m diving into the top kitchen items I do recommend, with suggestions for quality brands I’ve used and loved. (Disclaimer: contains affiliate links).

I explained in my last post that I regretted most of the items I registered for nine years ago. If I could go back and register all over again (and if my guests weren’t all frugal Mennonites — *ahem*), here are the items I would choose. They are what I use on a daily basis now, as a seasoned home cook, and I love them all (and hope to use them for many years to come).

Since I am trying to be a good steward of the planet, and aim for a minimalist lifestyle as much as possible, these items follow a certain set of criteria that are important to me:

  • They are made to last a long time, so you’re not constantly throwing things out and replacing them. Often, they are much more expensive than conventional options, but should save you money in the long run.
  • They are as multi-functional as possible, enabling you to keep the number of items to a minimum (For example, I include a toaster oven, which can do the job of both a toaster and a microwave, eliminating the need for either). This reduces clutter and keeps things simpler.
  • They are generally the least toxic and most energy-efficient options I know of.

Cooking and Prep

Minimalist Bridal Registry: the 3 knives you need

Knives: Don’t be fooled into thinking you need a whole big set of knives. I have found that with three good knives, you can do just about anything.

Chef’s Knife. You guys: getting a proper chef’s knife changed my life.  I’m listing this first because it is, in my opinion, the most valuable and important kitchen tool.  I got a Wusthof 8-inch Chef’s knife two Christmases ago and will never use anything else. Nothing else compares in terms of versatility, balance, control, blade sharpness, and (according to Amazon reviews) longevity. I highly recommend that every home cook get the best chef’s knife they can afford.

While I used to use a variety of cheap knives every day, I now use this one for virtually everything. Chopping, mincing, slicing, you name it. Every single day. I still have my old knives but never touch them. For me, this knife worth the extra cost because you’ll never need another knife. I also prefer to use it over fancy chopping and slicing gadgets. It’s faster and tidier.

It’s nice to have a good knife sharpener to maintain it. I have this one, as recommended by a professional chef.

Paring Knife.  Even though I do almost everything with my chef’s knife, I occasionally need a small knife for things like trimming and coring fruits and vegetables. I currently just have a cheapo and it does the job; eventually I would like to get a Wusthof.

Bread Knife. Another essential. I think brand and quality are less important with this one (I just have a department store brand), but you still want something that will last (like this J.A. Henckels Stainless-Steel Bread Knife.)

Cutting Board. I recommend wood or bamboo — it’s gentle on your expensive knives; and more hygienic, durable, and eco-friendly than plastic. Although one lightweight, flexible plastic cutting board in addition to the bamboo one can come in handy when you need to whip out an extra one.

Minimalist Bridal Registry: pans

Cast Iron Skillet. I can’t say enough about my 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet. It’s inexpensive. It’s heavy-duty. It will last you the rest of your life — you might even be able to pass it on to your children. You can use steel utensils in it. It’s safe (unlike Teflon pans). It’s multi-purpose — wonderful for frying, sauteing, braising, grilling, you name it. I use mine every single day, for almost every meal.

It takes some getting used to, learning how to use and care for cast iron (e.g. you never wash with soap, to preserve the seasoning); but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back. You also have to get used to the weight.

I recommend getting two — a 12-inch and a 10-inch.

Stainless Steel Saute Pan with Lid. In addition to my cast iron, this versatile pan with a lid gets near-daily use, especially for sauces.

Pot Set. Surprisingly, I have no opinion here. I had a fairy cheap set for the first 8 years or so and found it fine.

Surgical Huck Towels. Forget traditional dish towels. Surgical huck towels are super-absorbent, durable, and lint-free. They dry quickly, which means they don’t get stinky. They dry glass without streaking. You can use them in lieu of oven mitts or pot holders — just keep them neatly folded a few times and tucked into your apron strings. I love them.

I recommend choosing a colour besides white, so the stains don’t show so fast. (I have the orange.)

Toaster Oven. I use my toaster oven for SO MUCH: for reheating leftovers (instead of a microwave); for toasting bread (anything from standard sliced bread to baguettes); and for baking small items like cheesecakes and pies (this uses much less energy than your oven). I highly, highly recommend this item. I’m sure they’re all great, though I own the Oster convection toaster oven.

Blender or Food Processor. I still haven’t found the One Food Processor to Rule Them All. I started out with a cheap Costco blender. I do not recommend it. If I had to choose between a blender and food processor, I’d choose the latter.

I own and love my Ninja Master Prep Professional – it’s super-versatile (it can function as a blender and food processor), it can blend anything, and works quickly. I use it for anything from smoothies to salsa to my date and nut balls. I can make my own peanut butter, and it will blend frozen banana chunks into a creamy, dairy-free ice cream. It’s very affordable, too. I just worry that the construction isn’t very sturdy and it won’t last long. I’ve had it for a couple of years without issue, but I’m noticing fissures in the containers which vexes me.

If I had the money, I’d buy a Vitamix. Apparently it’s the bee’s knees of blenders.

Basic Box Grater. I’ve used fancy food processors with grating and slicing discs; but unless I’m doing huge bulk amounts, I find a box grater (like this Norpro)  much more practical because it’s easy to clean and take up less space. Plus, something in the motor of my stupid Hamilton Beach food processor broke and I had to throw it in the garbage. Sometimes manual is just better.

Measuring Cups. Glass for liquid and stainless steel for dry ingredients. Please.

Silicone Brush. I use it for all kinds of things, but especially spreading fat (butter, lard, olive oil, coconut oil) onto bakeware. With this little tool, I avoid all cooking sprays. Aerosol cans (like Pam) are horrible for many reasons; and I’ve never found a good reusable spray-can (I’ve tried a few). I prefer solid fats anyway for health reasons, anyway.

Silicone Spoon. I love love love my silicone spoon, though of course a regular rubber spatula works (almost) just as well.

minimalist bridal registry: stainless steel utensils

Cooking Utensils. Growing up, my mom always kept a drawer bursting full with innumerable broken, half-melted plastic spatulas and utensils. I have since learned the value of a few quality items — I recommend one stainless steel whisk, ladle, serving spoon, slotted spoon, spaghetti server, tongs, and spatula. (Duplicates are nice, of course.) You can use stainless steel with my suggested pans (above) without worry. A few wooden spoons round this out nicely.

Vegetable Peeler. I haven’t found my peeler soul-mate, but I have used a lot of crappy ones, and they make life miserable. A good one is hard to find. I am happy with my newish KitchenAid peeler.

Large (Metal) Colander. For draining pasta, homemade stocks, etc.

Baking and Roasting

minimalist bridal registry: baking pans

Baking Stone. I got two of these Pampered Chef cookie sheets for Christmas two years ago and I am CRAZY about them. Nothing sticks to them. I bake crackers, cookies, buns, pizza, anything on these stones, and they bake beautifully and evenly. LOVE.

Glass and/or Ceramic Bakeware. For baking, you’ll likely need at least one of each: 9 X 13-inch pan; square 8 or 9-inch baking pan; 9-inch pie plate; and loaf pan. (I like to bake bread in bulk, so I actually have 8 pans).

Electric Mixer. A hand mixer is totally sufficient for whipping cream and mixing batters if you don’t have a stand mixer. It’s all I used for the first eight years, and I can’t say upgrading to a stand mixer has made that big a difference.

Metal Cake Pan and Muffin Tin(s). I prefer a springform cake pan (I have this one). My muffin tins have a nonstick coating, which i don’t love, but I usually use paper muffin cups.

*I haven’t found the ideal solution for rimmed baking pans (when baking something roll-y, like roasted chick peas). I currently use cheap nonstick baking sheets. I would someday like to own one of these Pampered Chef stoneware bar pans.

Serving, Eating and Storing

Corelle Dinnerware. This is one bridal registry item I don’t regret. Corelle dishes are affordable and incredibly durable — I still have almost every original piece from 9 years ago. I got the plain white (“Winter Frost“) set. Yes, it’s kind of boring. But it matches with everything, never goes out of style, and individual items are easily replaceable if broken — this style will never be discontinued. I can get funky napkins if I want to spiff things up.

Drinking Glasses and Stemware. I have nothing to say except choose sturdy over pretty. (Ideally, they’ll be both.)

Mason Jars. I use all different sizes of mason jars for storing all kinds of things, from dried beans in my pantry to homemade yogurt in my fridge. I can jams, tomatoes, and pickles in them. Mason jars are so versatile, I adore them (and they look cute, too!). It’s great to have a nice collection of every style and size, from half-pints to quarts. And I absolutely LOVE having the plastic caps (regular and wide-mouth sizes) for storage.

Minimialist Bridal Registry: storage containers

Plastic Dry Foods Storage Containers. It’s also handy to have some larger, plastic, rectangular storage containers for bulk dry foods. Buying in bulk can save money and decrease packaging waste. I like my Rubbermaid Modular containers for storing things like flour, rice, and sugar. They’re affordable, durable, and more space-efficient than mason jars.

Other Storage Containers. I always cook enough food at dinner to have leftovers for lunch. I have a variety of storage containers for that purpose. I personally love the Tupperware brand — it’s spendy, and you have to buy from a buy it from a consultant, but it lasts forever (with a lifetime guarantee). It also doesn’t contain BPA. I like to use glass containers, too, so that leftovers can go directly into the toaster oven to reheat.

 Well, I’m probably forgetting something, but these items come to mind as the most essential items.

Do you agree? What’s missing from my list, in your opinion?

A Minimalist Bridal Registry (Part One): Some Guiding Principles and Items to Avoid

Putting together a minimalist bridal registry: suggestions for guiding principles, and a list of items to avoid.

(This post idea came from reader Laura. Congrats on your engagement, Laura! It started getting ridiculously long, so I had to break it into two parts. Who knew I had so much to say on bridal registries? Here, I offer some suggestions in what to look for when registering, as well of some things I don’t recommend. In my next post, I’ll share a list of the items I do recommend.)

When I was creating my bridal registry nine years ago, I had no idea what I was doing.

I was 20. I had never lived alone. I hadn’t done a lot of cooking, and I didn’t know what I would need.

I made my registry at Wal-Mart and registered for all the cheapest stuff I could find. I thought I was doing my guests a favour, and didn’t think there was any difference between expensive stuff and cheap stuff except cachet. I ended up getting a lot of things myself from the dollar store, thinking it was just as good as anything. I had no experience with that kind of thing and didn’t know what would actually be worth a splurge.

It’s been almost nine years since then, and I’ve learned a thing or two about what I actually find useful, and what’s worth the extra cash. I’ve also discovered what is a total waste of money, and just adds to the clutter.

I regret most of my registry choices. Most of it ended up being junk that needed to be replaced in a matter of  years. I’ve spent the years since replacing many of those things with useful, good-quality items that I hope will last the rest of my life.

So I thought I’d share some of the wisdom I’ve amassed since then.

(Note: You’ll notice that I’ve chosen to focus on items for the kitchen. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, these items make up the bulk of most registries, and my list was already a mile long with just kitchen stuff. Second, the kitchen is the heart of my home, and I have the most opinions on the matter. And third, most of the other items you’d register for will be very specific to your particular home, lifestyle, and tastes.)

Here are some guiding principles I suggest when putting together a bridal registry:

  • Look for durable items. Have long-lasting in mind. Things like sturdy drinking glasses and reliable brands (e.g. Corelle for dishes).
  • Look for classic styles that won’t quickly go out of date. They might feel like the more boring choices, but at least they won’t look dated in ten years. (And I want my stuff to last more than ten years.) In other words, you might want to avoid aqua, chevron, and bird silhouettes. They look pretty now, but they’re the dusty roses and forest greens of tomorrow.
  • Avoid plastic. It will crack and melt. There are a few exceptions (like Rubbermaid storage containers), but plastic is generally not made to last. Plus, you risk leaching toxins into your food. Choose glass, ceramic, stainless steel, and wood where possible.
  • Avoid items that only serve one purpose. You can’t always do this (i.e. you probably want a butter tray to only store butter); but in general, try to think of a few good items that are multi-purpose instead of buying a hundred different things, each with its own purpose. How often are you really going to use a strawberry huller?

Before I offer my list of suggestions, I thought it might be useful to start  with the following:

Surprising items you won’t see on my list:

I’ve nixed the following items — even though they’re incredibly popular and can be found in most kitchens and bridal registries — either because they’re questionable in terms of toxicity; they’re not made to last; or they only serve one function (which would be better achieved with another tool).

  • Microwave. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I just don’t trust ‘em. We reheat food either in the toaster oven or on the stovetop. It takes a few more minutes, but you get used to it.
  • Nonstick frying pan. Not only is Teflon kind of scary, but it’s way too delicate. All the nonstick pans I’ve ever owned are long gone because the coating chipped and flaked within the first couple of years. You definitely don’t want to ingest Teflon bits. I prefer stainless steel and cast iron for frying and stovetop cooking.
  • Stand mixer. You might find one of these useful later in life, or maybe you regularly bake in bulk. But I got a KitchenAid a few years ago and rarely use it. It takes up a substantial amount of counter space, and you can do most of those things by hand or with a food processor. A handheld mixer should suffice for making things like whipped cream. (I will concede that a KitchenAid is wonderful for its attachments — pasta maker, ice cream maker, grain grinder, etc.)
  • Knife block. You do not need that many knives. You need three. Most knives that come in a knife block, you’ll never use. And storing them on your counter takes up precious space that could be better used. More thoughts on knives in my next post.
  • Toaster. That’s a bulky appliance for only one function (toasting sliced bread). What a waste. We haven’t had one for years. Use a toaster oven.
  • Kettle. This might be different if you’re a big tea-drinker. But if you’re short on space, a pot on the stove-top works just as well and is much easier to clean.
  • Pizza pans. Again: these serve only one function. We make a lot of pizza, but we just use our rectangular baking stones (which we also use for almost everything else, too.)
  • Gadgets for grating, dicing, chopping, etc. These always sound great and I’ve owned my fair share but I never end up actually using them. I find a knife and cutting board more efficient (they’re always already out), and much easier to clean. (I find that any time you save using the gadget is more than used up with cleaning.)
  • Coffee-maker. I’ve omitted it simply because I don’t drink the stuff and therefore have no opinions on the matter. For what it’s worth, my husband loves his Keurig, which he uses with the reusable filter. (Please do not use K-Cups unless you hate money and your planet.)

So now that you have a few general principles to guide you, and you know what I don’t recommend, what do I recommend? My suggestions can be found here: A Minimalist Bridal Registry — Tools for a Lifetime of Fabulous Food.

Anything else you’d add to my avoid list? Do you think any of mine are crazy? What other guiding principles would you suggest?

Image courtesy of JD Hancock.

Brewing Your Own Kombucha: Flavouring and Carbonating

 Brewing your own kombucha: tips for adding flavour and fizz to homemade kombucha

Finally! The last installment of my How to Brew Your Own Kombucha series!

Last week I explained how to grow your own SCOBY from store-bought kombucha (Stage One); I then proceeded to share how you can brew your own kombucha from a home-grown SCOBY (Stage Two). Next, I want to explore how to keep brewing kombucha, as well as flavouring and carbonating your kombucha to make it that much more fantastic.

STAGE THREE: Make Your Kombucha Extra-Tasty!

So, if you’ve managed to let your homegrown SCOBY float around in your sweetened tea for another whole week as I discussed in my last post: congratulations! You should have your very first batch of kombucha!!

Like I mentioned in my last post, If your SCOBY sank, you probably have a new thin film growing on top of your kombucha, in addition to the SCOBY you grew earlier. This film is a new SCOBY (often called a “baby”), which can eventually be used for brewing more kombucha, but it’s probably too thin to do much with right now. You might want to grow it a little bigger in following cycles. I’ll tell you more about that later. For now, you’ll probably want to keep using your first SCOBY for your next batch of kombucha. It can be used for dozens of batches, and will just keep growing (if you can get it to float on top!).

Anyway, time to dig in to your new kombucha! Which hopefully looks something like this once you remove the cloth cover:

finished kombucha(The SCOBY in the photo is a couple of months old — if yours is new, it won’t be that thick. You can see the new baby floating above it)

Before you do anything, start brewing your next batch sweetened tea for your next batch of kombucha, using the recipe/method from my last post: 10 cups of water, 3/4 cups sugar, 6 bags of tea. Just bring it all to a boil on your stovetop and then let it cool.

Meanwhile:

Remove your SCOBY(s) and set it/them in a bowl. Cover with a little kombucha to keep it from drying out.

kombucha - removing scobyI know. I take amazing photos.

Now, you can drink your kombucha just the way it is. Just pour into a couple of bottles and enjoy. It should be tangy and slightly sweet — kind of cidery — and no longer taste at all like tea. But don’t get greedy and drink all of it — you’ll want to save some for your next batch (at least a cup).

Your first brew is probably not very fizzy, if at all. That’s okay. If you really want fizz, take heart: in a few more cycles, you can probably get a good carbonation going, as your SCOBY gets more mature.

Personally, I like my kombucha chilled; I also like to mix it up with some fruity flavours. And bubbles makes it extra-special. For this, you’ll need to do a second ferment. (Meaning you’ll have to wait ANOTHER 5-7 days before you can start drinking it. I KNOW! Kombucha requires so much patience!) So here’s what I do:

Preparing a Second Fermentation (for Flavour and Carbonation)

Get out a couple of quart jars with lids. Add whatever juices, fruits, or spices you want to use to flavour your kombucha.

(Some people use fancy bottles with hinge tops and stuff like that, but I have no idea where to get those items. So for now I use mason jars.)

I have found that my favourite combination is raspberry-ginger. It creates a drink reminiscent of cranberry ginger ale. Rosy, fruity, and slightly spicy. Whatever you choose, you’ll need about a quarter cup of fruit juice. You can add fresh fruit, too, but I’ve had the best flavour results with juice.

So far I’ve also tried pieces of fresh peach, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries: I recently tried apple-cinammon (using apple cider and a piece of cinnamon stick. I wasn’t a fan). Your call.

I keep frozen cubes of raspberry juice (that I squeezed in the summer) in my freezer: I toss a couple into the bottom of the jar. Then I add a thin slice of fresh ginger. (Ginger adds great flavour, and really helps to carbonate it. I can ALWAYS tell when I’ve included ginger — even just a tiny bit — because it really helps create fizz.)

(Another tip: pre-slice a whole piece of ginger root and store it in your freezer. That way you already had perfectly-sized pieces handy for flavouring your kombucha.)

Sometimes I’ll add half a teaspoon of sugar to each jar, too, to further aid in carbonation.

adding juice and gingerThen add your kombucha to be flavoured. Fill it up almost to the top — leaving only a quarter-inch/centimeter of space at the top. The gases need to build up pressure to create the fizz.

filling kombucha

If you don’t want to flavour your kombucha but want the fizz, skip the fruit juice but do the rest — add the sugar and pour the kombucha into new jars and seal. I still recommend a little bit of ginger, though.

(Also, another tip: remember that you have to save some kombucha for your next batch. If you’re using the proportions I suggested, you’ll need to reserve 1 1/2 cups of kombucha as your “starter” for the next batch. Empty out your big fermenting jar into another vessel and measure out this amount of kombucha; then return the 1 1/2 cups to the original jar. Mark the level with a Sharpie, like this:


line mark
That line marks how much of your old kombucha you need to reserve every time you make a new batch. Saves you some time and fuss in the future.)

Going back to your flavoured kombucha: now tightly cap your jars/bottles and put them back where they were fermenting before — somewhere out of direct sunlight. They’ll have to stay there for a couple more days.

(Once your flavoured kombucha jars are all ready, you can return to the sweetened tea you started brewing when you started out. Make a new batch of kombucha using the method I described in my last post, using your new kombucha starter. All you’re doing is adding your fresh sweet tea to your new starter in your big vessel, and returning your SCOBY to float on top. Include your new, thin baby if you have it — hopefully it will grow thicker, so you have a second SCOBY as a backup or to give to a friend!)

Like I said, you want to let your flavoured kombucha jars sit for another 5 days or so, for the flavours to steep and for the carbon dioxide to build up. You might notice that the lid becomes stiff from the carbonation inside. This is a good sign.

kombucha(Here I’ve got four bottles of kombucha brewing for their second ferment; I also went a little overboard and did a double batch of new kombucha, too.)

After that, pop your jars of flavoured kombucha in the fridge to chill.

Finally: time to enjoy!

If you grew your own SCOBY, it’s probably been close to six weeks since you started your kombucha adventure. But it’ll be so worth it. Now your delightfully healthy drink should be lightly bubbly and full of complex flavour — as addictive and delightful as soda, without the deleterious effect on your body!

Future batches will be way easier to make, and you won’t be feeling so impatient because you already have some in your fridge.

Before drinking, just remember that another thin film will have formed on top of your kombucha (another tiny baby SCOBY). Just scoop it off and compost it.

If you can’t get yours to carbonate right away, don’t worry. It’s still delicious without the fizz, and you can keep experimenting. Mine still doesn’t always end up very fizzy (or even at all, sometimes.)

But sometimes, I end up with something beautiful, like this:

carbonated (fizzy) homemade kombucha

Some people talk about jars exploding and kombucha fizzing out all over the place when they open them up, but I’ve never gotten anywhere near that amount of carbonation. Just a light fizz to make it sparkle.

With my best batches, I get a little bit of a chhhhhh when I open the lid. It’s terribly satisfying.

finished kombucha

There you have it! Once you get the hang of it it’s actually very simple. Then you can start experimenting with different kinds of teas (I’m starting to explore different proportions of green and white teas in combination with black), fruits and spices.

Any questions, or tips of your own?

Brewing Your First Batch of Kombucha With a Homegrown SCOBY

brew your own kombucha

Interested in brewing your own kombucha? It’s an easy and inexpensive way to enjoy that delicious, tangy, healthful, probiotic beverage!

In my last post, I explained how I grew my own SCOBY from a bottle of store-bought kombucha. (It’s absurdly easy). That was Stage One.

Next, I’ll explain how you can brew your first batch of kombucha with your brand-new, homegrown SCOBY.

After that, I’ll share what I’ve learned about flavouring and carbonating your kombucha.

Stage Two: Brewing Your First Batch of Kombucha

First, you’re going to need a vessel in which to brew your kombucha. To be honest, this was the trickiest part for me! It needs to be glass (NOT plastic or metal), it needs to have a large enough mouth to be able to transfer the SCOBY in and out, and it needs to be big enough to hold your whole brew for about a week.

I’ve found the best vessel for me is a 96-oz (a.k.a. 3/4 gallon a.k.a 3-liter) glass jar (i.e. a family-sized Vlasic pickle jar). It doesn’t need to have a lid. You could start with a quart-sized jar and work your way up to something bigger (just halve the recipe I offer below).

big kombucha jar

(To give you a point of reference when determining how much to make: I’m the only one who drinks it in my house, and I drink about a glass a day. I brew a new batch every week, to keep my SCOBY happy. This sized jar gives me more than enough.)

Once you’ve got your vessel and your SCOBY ready, you need to brew a batch of sweetened black tea. So you’ll need tea (in bags or loose) and white sugar (preferably organic). You can experiment with other teas later, but black works the best to start. You could try Ceylon, English Breakfast, or Darjeeling. (Learn more about tea options here.) I personally use mostly Ceylon with a little green tea. So far, I’ve just been using a cheap box of Lipton tea; I want to find something better yet.

And don’t worry about all that sugar — it will be eaten up by the bacteria, leaving you with a low-sugar beverage.

The proportions I personally use for the sweetened tea are as follows:

  • 10 cups water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tea bags (I currently tend to use 5 black, 1 green)
  • 1 1/2 cups kombucha from previous batch (or the stuff you grew your SCOBY in)

With this, you will get a little over 2 liters (half a gallon) of finished kombucha to drink. (Some, you will have saved for your next batch of kombucha.) That’s more than enough to last me a week (until the next batch is ready).

Anyway, to brew the tea, I throw the first three ingredients into a big pot, stir it, bring it to a boil, and then let it cool to room temperature. I don’t even time it or anything. It might take a couple hours to cool completely. (You just don’t want it to be too hot and kill your precious SCOBY).

making sweetened tea for kombucha

making sweetened tea for kombucha 2

kombucha tea

Once it’s cool, Pour the sweetened tea, along with 1 1/2 cups of the old kombucha (in which you grew your SCOBY), into the big glass vessel. Then, with clean hands, place the SCOBY to float on top. (It doesn’t matter if it sinks; it’s just nice if it floats because then it will continue to get thicker. If it sinks, you’ll just get a really thin new SCOBY on top of the liquid which you could grow into a bigger SCOBY later.)

Cover your glass vessel with a kitchen towel, cheesecloth, or a coffee filter, and secure with an elastic. Then set it somewhere safe, out of direct sunlight, to ferment. The SCOBY will transform that sweetened tea into a delightful beverage.

brewing kombucha

Now you have to wait another week. Kombucha-brewing demands patience!

(Tip: Some folks will tell you to wait anywhere from 5-10 days; I have found that a week is perfect. That also makes it easy to keep brewing continuously — I know that I always brew a new batch every Wednesday.)

If all goes well, by the following week your tea mixture will have turned into a delightfully tangy, slightly effervescent drink reminiscent of  cider. Yummo!

You can drink it just the way it is, but you also might choose to chill, carbonate, and/or flavour your lovely kombucha. Whatever you do, be sure to save some kombucha for your next batch!

Come back tomorrow and I’ll share a few ideas to make your kombucha extra-tasty! (Along with some tips for continuous brewing.)

Did I miss anything? Do you have any tips to add?

How to Start Brewing Kombucha Without a SCOBY

 

How to grow your own kombucha SCOBY. So easy!

Folks: after years of wanting to brew my own kombucha, I’m finally doing it. I’ve been brewing my own kombucha successfully for a couple of months, and it has become my favourite beverage. I drink it every day.

Also? It’s easy! I can’t believe I was ever intimidated by this!

And I never even had to buy a SCOBY! Want to find out how you can make your own kombucha without the costly investment of buying a SCOBY? In this post, I’ll tell you how to grow your own SCOBY. Next, I’ll share  how to start brewing your first batch of kombucha. For the first step, all you need to begin is a bottle of ready-made kombucha and a whole lotta patience. Read on . . .

My Journey To Kombucha-Land

I’ve been interested in kombucha for years. A fizzy, tangy-sweet probiotic drink that’s good for you? Sign me up!

I started getting into Traditional Foods back in 2010 when I was trying to learn how to conceive naturally. I started soaking grains and consuming saturated fats and fermenting vegetables. But the one thing that continually stumped me was beverages.

Basically all conventional beverages are problematic — conventional pasteurized milk; pasteurized fruit juice; chlorinated/fluoridated tap water; and obviously, worst of all, SODA (or as we call it around here, POP). None of these drinks are anything like what our ancestors drank. I personally don’t care for coffee or tea. Wine and beer aren’t completely horrible, but you don’t want to make them staples of your diet, especially when you’re pregnant.

What is a gal to drink?

I eventually was able to source some raw milk, but otherwise we began to drink mostly filtered water in our house. I got used to it, but I often craved something a little more exciting.

Everyone in the Traditional Foods world seemed to be brewing and drinking kombucha. Everything I heard about it sounded great — healthful, tasty, and slightly effervescent like pop. It sounded like the perfect solution.

The trouble is, before I could start making my own kombucha, I needed a SCOBY (an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast — the thing that turns sweetened tea into kombucha. It’s sometimes called a “mother” or “kombucha mushroom”). You can get SCOBYs from other people who brew kombucha, but I didn’t personally know a single person who was into traditional foods (I only knew people online). You can also buy SCOBYs online, but they’re expensive (and shipping in Canada is terribly expensive), and I was hesitant to make the investment without having ever tasted the stuff. I didn’t know where I could buy it ready-made. What if it was gross? And what if I messed it up?

So kombucha remained a thing of my dreams.

Then, while my family was in the U.S. for the weekend, I found bottled kombucha available at the local Whole Foods store. Hallelujah! It was love at first sip. I had to have more of it. And I pretty much went ballistic when I discovered kombucha is super-high in B-vitamins — something I’m constantly trying to get more of, in an attempt to balance my hormones.

But at $3.50 a bottle and only available on the other side of the border, I wasn’t likely to be purchasing it in large quantities. (Note: I have since discovered a couple of Canadian suppliers, but it’s still expensive and hard to get your hands on).

GT's kombucha

Anyway, in a moment of serendipity, I posted a photo of my store-bought kombucha on Instagram, saying that I wished I had a SCOBY so I could brew my own. And to my great joy, LilyGirl explained that I could, in fact, brew my own kombucha with that very bottle! Woohoo!

I bought another bottle of kombucha, took it home, and got to work.

Growing Your Own SCOBY

To be clear: you do need a SCOBY to brew kombucha. But you can easily grow your own from a bottle of pre-made kombucha!

(Note: I had read from a number of sources that since 2010, it no longer worked to grow your own SCOBY from store-bought kombucha. I wonder if that’s only the case if you try to grow your own SCOBY using the popular method of mixing kombucha with sweetened tea. Regardless, I’ve been brewing my own kombucha with my own homegrown SCOBY since August 2013 with great success. And in fact, the method I used is even simpler than any of the tutorials I’d read before.)

To begin, you’ll need a bottle of unflavoured store-bought kombucha. It needs to be unpasteurized/raw. I personally used GT’s Synergy Original.

Here’s what you do:

  • Pour the bottle of kombucha into a clean mason jar. A quart jar is a good size.
  • Cover the jar with some cheesecloth or a coffee filter (or any cloth, really) and secure it tightly with an elastic or a canning ring. (This is just to keep bugs and junk out of your brew, while allowing it to breathe. It’s a living organism, after all!)
  • Let it sit on your counter for a couple weeks until a white film begins to form on the top. Don’t jostle it or it will sink and you will have to start all over again (I learned this the hard way). The film will continue to grow thicker as it sits on your counter. Once it’s about a quarter-inch thick, you’re good to go. In August, it took me about 3 weeks to get it this thick. Now in November, with the cooler temperatures, it takes closer to a month.

scoby

And that’s it! You have your own SCOBY! Time to start brewing!

In my next post, I’ll explain how to brew your very first batch of kombucha.

You’ll need:

  • a large glass jar or bowl — at least a half-gallon (2-liter) size
  • black tea (Ceylon, English Breakfast, or Darjeeling — even cheap Lipton will work for now)
  • white sugar

Any questions? Have you tried this? How successful were you?

Hog-Harvesting Day: A Photo Tour

Warning: if the title wasn’t clear enough, the following post contains photos of our family handling very large quantities of unprocessed meat. If you’re squeamish about these things, you may want to skip this one.

pigs

For as long as I can remember, my extended family on my dad’s side has gotten together to butcher a couple of hogs every year. It’s a Mennonite tradition carried over from their childhoods in Mexico. It always happens in someone’s garage, and there’s always chili for lunch. Always.

No one in my family has ever raised pigs before this year (at least, not in Canada).  My parents and aunts and uncles always pitched in to buy them — already killed, cleaned, and cut in half — from the local butcher.

This year was a special year: my parents raised their own pigs for the first time. They kept six pigs out in pasture, to roam freely and wallow in mud, the way pigs were meant to roam and wallow. After the pigs finished destroying the area of pasture they were given, they were fed organic oats that my uncle got from the local Heinz plant where he works.

In recent years it has become increasingly important for me to only eat healthy animals that have lived happy lives and been killed humanely. (The same goes for the animals whose milk and eggs I consume.) If I’m going to eat meat, I don’t want to participate in torturing animals. If tortured animals are the only ones available to me, I generally refrain from eating meat. (That’s why I order off the vegetarian menu at restaurants.)

I also like to be as involved as possible in the processing of my food, to ensure its quality and to maintain a connection to the food that sustains my body.

I’m incredibly fortunate in that my parents have always raised their own cattle and chickens — always free-range, in the great outdoors. I was absolutely thrilled when they decided to add pigs to the menagerie. Now I can also eat pork with a (mostly) clear conscience. (I’m never completely comfortable with my omnivorous ways.)

I thought I’d share some photos from butchering day, in case that kind of thing interests you.

Note: my parents had the pigs killed and cleaned (i.e. degutted) by the local abattoir; they came to us in halves (lengthwise). We took it from there.

We did three pigs in one day, with nine pairs of hands helping.

We began by cutting the hog halves into manageable pieces, and then removing the skin and fat.

 starting edited

 cutting

cutting meat

The fat was ground up in a meat grinder and put into our huge cauldron (I don’t know the English word — in German, it sounds roughly like mew-groopin, and it exists for this sole purpose), to render into lard. The process takes several hours, with constant stirring and supervision. The bits of remaining meat turn into cracklings (which we call griven), which are strained out of the lard.

griven edited

griven

griven 2Mmm. Griven absolutely must be eaten on homemade bread with homemade strawberry jam.

Meanwhile, the meat was divided and turned into different cuts — ribs, roasts, and chops. A good amount was ground up and seasoned for sausage.

grinding meat

ground porkHere, I’m separated 20 lbs to turn into Italian sausage, which we’ve never done before.

italian sausage seasoning

italian sausageHere, we’re making Mennonite-style sausage (“reukvarsch”) to be smoked. The only seasoning is salt and pepper, which my parents do by sight (no measuring).

making sausageIf you’re wondering: the sausage casings are sheep intestines.

On to the smokehouse:

smokehouse

Preparing the fire for the smokehouse:

smokehouse

Preparing the sausages for smoking:

smoking sausage

sausage3

After smoking for about two hours, they’re ready to package.

smoked sausage

And what would an old-fashioned Mennonite hog butchering day be without liverwurst?

Pork liver:

pork liver

The liver gets ground up with other bits of leftover pork (cooked and raw), seasoned, and made into thick sausages using the large sheep intestine (rather than the small intestine):

making liverwurstThe sausages are cut into short lengths, tied up, and boiled in pork broth.

Sounds gross, but I tell you it is absolutely delicious on homemade bread with jam.

Last, we packaged the lard. Not everyone wanted theirs, so I got more than my share. I took home about 5 gallons of the stuff. Can you believe my luck?! (I use it for frying and making flour tortillas, mostly. It is literally impossibly to buy pure lard around here without preservatives, especially organic. This is a real treat.)

pouring lard(In the bottom right of this photo, you can see some of the cooked liverwurst in a bowl.)

lard 2Lovely lard. It will turn creamy white as it cools and hardens.

lardThat’s ALL LARD. Yes.

There you have it! Any questions? Have you ever done anything like this??

Recipe: Kathleen’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Squares

peanut-butter chocolate-chip cheesecake squares. A simple, not-too-sweet treat!

So I decided to add another recipe to the repertoire of not-too-sweet treats I’ve been sharing here. I made these the other day and Ben declared them “The perfect dessert.” They’re filling and indulgent, without being too sweet.

I developed this recipe out of a desire for a go-to, not-too-sugary, not-too-processed cheesecake recipe. I couldn’t find one so I had to make one up. The greatest challenge was coming up with a good crust.

Growing up, I knew how to make cheesecake crusts using one of two standard ingredients: either store-bought graham-cracker crumbs or Oreo cookie crumbs. Those were your options. You added more sugar and some butter (or margarine!) to either one of these bagged ingredients and pressed it into the bottom of your pan before adding your filling.

When I started to transition to real/traditional foods, I realized that these staple items in my pantry had to go. They were filled with obnoxious non-food ingredients like hydrogenated oils, artificial flavours, and of course, high-fructose corn syrup.

I started playing around with simpler ingredients. Turns out, you can make an excellent crust using just flour, sugar, and butter (and cocoa, if you want).

This recipe still has plenty of sugar, so you don’t want to make it often or eat it all in one sitting. It also still contains white flour. But it’s definitely less sugary and processed than the recipes I grew up with, and I’ve decided it’s acceptable as an occasional treat.

In this recipe, I’ve added cacao nibs to add some rich, chocolatey flavour and textural intrigue without adding more sugar, but you can omit them or substitute chocolate chips.

peanut-butter chocolate chip cheesecake squares

Kathleen’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Squares

Note: it’s best to make cheesecake with room-temperature ingredients. So take your cream cheese,  eggs and peanut butter (if applicable) out of the fridge an hour or so before you start. This will give you a smoother batter, and you won’t have to beat it as long, which helps prevent cracking during baking.

Also note that this recipe requires you to bake the crust on its own for a bit before adding the rest and completing the baking.

 Crust:

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cocoa
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted

Combine all the ingredients in a square 9-inch glass pan, and then pat it down in the bottom of the dish evenly. Bake for 15 minutes at 350. Let it cool a bit before adding the filling.

 Cheesecake filling:

  • 2 bricks (1 pound) cream cheese
  • ½ cup natural peanut butter
  • ½ cup sugar (sucanat, evaporated cane juice, or coconut palm are all good)
  • 2 eggs
  • handful raw cacao nibs (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp dark chocolate chips

Mix all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a mixer with the paddle attachment just until blended. Pour onto the cooled crust. [Updated to add: sprinkle on chocolate chips]

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

Serves 9 (If everyone’s being self-disciplined)

Substitutions:

If you’re in the mood for chocolate cheesecake, omit the peanut butter and add 3 tbsp cocoa powder.

Recipe: Pecan Peanut-Butter Protein Bars

I’m sharing another recipe with you today, as part of my not-too-sweet treats series. (You can find the full list of recipes here. The recipe series began as a response to my post, Why I’m Glad Natural Sweeteners are Expensive.)

This recipe is adapted from Katie Kimball’s Protein Bars, from the e-book Healthy Snacks to Go. I’ve made them a bunch of times, and everyone in the family loves them.

Katie says you can substitute any nut for the pecans, but I suspect the pecans contribute quite a bit of their natural sweetness to this tasty snack, which is why they need so little additional sweetener. Her recipe also includes 1/4 cup optional chocolate chips, but I don’t find them necessary. Your family  might, if you’re used to sweeter treats.

Another bonus with this recipe is that it contains molasses, which is high in vitamin B6 (something my body tends to need), iron, potassium, and calcium. All important nutrients. It doesn’t taste very strong, though — the peanut butter seems to mask the flavour. You might want to start out with only two tablespoons and work your way up if you’re not fond of molasses. Personally, I find that after one taste of these bars, I start to crave more of the molasses flavour. Perhaps my body recognizes and appreciates the Vitamin B boost?

Pecan Peanut-Butter Protein Bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup pecans
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter
  • 2-3 Tbsp blackstrap molasses (unsulphured)
  • 2 Tbsp raw honey
  • ¼ tsp vanilla
  • Drizzle of maple syrup or honey, as needed

Preheat oven to 250.

Process nuts in a food processor until they become a coarse meal.

(This is my Ninja food processor)

Pour nuts into a large bowl and mix in the remaining dry ingredients, followed by the peanut butter, molasses, honey, and vanilla.

Stir well, until it all sticks together. Add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup if it’s too dry.

Grease a glass 8-inch square pan. Pour in nut mixture and press flat (It may help to moisten your hands first, if it’s really sticky). Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until golden around the edges.

Allow to cool, and then cut into bars with a sharp knife.

peacan peanut-butter squares

pecan peanut-butter squares - cutVoila! Store in the refrigerator for best quality.

Recipe: Cinnamon-Vanilla Rice Pudding

So I’ve been sharing some of my favourite not-too-sweet recipes, in response to my recent post on sugar (and why I’m glad natural sweeteners are expensive, because it keeps us from eating too much sugar). Anyway, here’s another recipe to add to the list — and for once, it’s not chocolate!

I am proud to say that I came up with this recipe all on my own. It’s inspired by risotto, if you want to know, adapted to create a sweet (but not too sweet) pudding.

I’d never made a satisfactory rice pudding before I came up with this one. It felt like I was just making runny pudding with rice floating around in it for no apparent reason. One day it dawned on me that I could achieve the same beautiful creaminess of risotto if I followed the same basic principles: start with arborio rice, sauteed in oil; then slowly add the liquid and stir, stir, stir until the rice releases all of its wonderful starch to create a rich, creamy pudding.

I played with the spices until I discovered perfection, in the form of a whole cinnamon stick and a half a vanilla bean. Oh my goodness, you guys. These two little flavour punches will knock your socks off. (Okay, they knocked my socks off. Maybe you don’t like perfection.) Plus, the sight of those beautiful black specks (i.e the vanilla bean seeds) will impress your friends and make you look like a real foodie.

Anyway, here’s the recipe I came up with. I’ve included substitutions if you don’t have a cinnamon stick and vanilla bean on hand. I’ve made it at least a dozen times, with or without the fancy spices.

Kathleen’s Cinnamon-Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding

You’ll be amazed how far four tablespoons of sweetener go in this super-flavourful pudding. I prefer the texture of Arborio rice, but I imagine regular white rice would work, too.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp coconut oil (preferably extra-virgin organic)

1 cup Arborio rice

4 cups milk

1/2 a vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)

2 tbsp organic cane sugar (or alternative)

2 tbsp honey (preferably local, raw)

rice pudding ingredients(I’m using a whole vanilla bean here, because I fished it out of my homemade vanilla extract and didn’t think the flavour would be strong enough with just a half)

Method:

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat; stir in rice to coat.

Stir in milk, sugar, vanilla bean (if using), and cinnamon stick; slowly bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring constantly (more or less — you can stop and do other things in the kitchen, but don’t wander too far), until most of the milk is absorbed and rice is tender. It should be nice and creamy.

Remove from stove and allow to cool for a few minutes. Fish out the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. (Be sure to scrape out all the delectable vanilla bean seeds with the tip of a sharp knife and stir them into the pudding.) Stir in raw honey and vanilla extract (if using). Pour into individual serving dishes and refrigerate until cool and firm, about an hour.

Serves 5-6.

cinnamon-vanilla rice pudding

Look at those beautiful vanilla bean seeds. They make this dish so rich and flavourful, and will impress your friends.

Have you tried anything similar? Again, do you have any not-too-sweet dessert recipes to share?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...