Chickpea Chocolate Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Icing

Chickpea chocolate cake

So . . . I’m pretty sure “chickpea” and “beet” are not two words you typically see in a birthday cake recipe. But what makes this recipe so interesting is that it looks and tastes like a totally normal chocolate birthday cake!

I baked this cake for Lydia’s third birthday this last weekend, and no one could tell there was anything unusual going on. In fact, our guests raved about how moist and chocolatey it was, and asked for the recipe. It’s dense but springy and rich. It’s a little less sweet than conventional or store-bought cakes, but that was intentional — I usually find birthday cake WAY too sweet, and I didn’t want to serve a really sugary dessert to our tiny guests.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was looking for a cake recipe that was somewhat nutritious, not too sugary, and didn’t contain artificial food dyes, which can make children (and adults) cray-cray. This one fit the bill perfectly.

birthday cake

A Note About the Cake:

The recipe originates from Nigella.com and is full of odd ingredients. I’ve made it many times over the years and have always been happy with it. I’ve doubled it here to make it a double-layer cake.

This cake happens to be grain-free and gluten-free (if you use the right ingredients), even though we don’t generally eat gluten-free. I just think we typically eat too many grains in general, so it’s always advantageous to cut back when we can. Thanks to the chick peas and eggs, it’s quite high in protein.

It works out really well for a double-layer cake because it has a flat top — they stack on top of one another beautifully.

If you just want a single-layer cake for a casual gathering, halve the recipe, add a handful of chocolate chips, and serve with homemade maple-sweetened whipped cream. Decadence without damaging your body.

A Note About the Icing:

I got this recipe from Joy the Baker, but I cut the sugar in half. It was still PLENTY sweet — I could have done even less, if it was just for our own family. And I boiled the beet rather than roasting it, since I only needed one (I wasn’t using beets in the rest of the recipe and didn’t want to heat up a whole oven for one beet.) The beet flavour doesn’t come through at all — just the lovely magenta colour. Who needs FD&C Red No. 40, anyway?

On the the recipe!

birthday cake slice

Chickpea Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cans chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), or 4 cups home-cooked
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups orange juice (or pineapple)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup coconut palm sugar (or other granulated sugar)
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with cut circles of parchment paper to make sure your cakes come out nice and easy. Preheat oven to 350.

Blend the chick peas and 4 of the eggs in a large blender or food processor until smooth. Then mix in all the rest of the ingredients until well blended. (They may not all fit in your blender at once. You may need to transfer to your mixer bowl and beat it with your mixer, after the beans are blended smooth.) Batter will be very runny, but don’t fret — it’ll fluff up like magic when you bake it.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until top is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

Beet Cream Cheese Icing

  • 1 small beet
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (preferably corn-free)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds of one vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Wash and trim the beet, and boil in a small pot of water until you can easily pierce it with a fork, about 10 minutes. Remove from water and allow to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, peel it and grate it with a microplaner or the finest grating plane on a box grater. Measure out 2-3 Tbsp for the icing; eat or discard the rest.

In a small food processor, blend together the grated beet, milk, and a small amount of the butter and cream cheese. This is just to get the beet ground up really fine. I didn’t want any of Joy’s “beet sprinkles” in my frosting.

Put the remaining butter and cream cheese to the bowl of your mixer, and beat with the paddle attachment until creamy and smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the beet mixture, powdered sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt.  Beat on medium speed until smooth.  Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

Assembling the Cake:

Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink frosting and spread evenly.  Place the other cake on top of the frosting.  Top with more frosting.  Work frosting onto the sides of the cake until evenly covered.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, to make the cake easier to slice.

finished birthday cake(I am not a pro at frosting a cake but I got the job done!)

Mexican Skillet and Rice: Dinner on the Table in 30 Minutes or Less!

Mexican Skillet and Rice: super-quick dinner in less than 30 minutes!

Hi friends!

I promise Becoming Peculiar is not becoming a food blog. I love food blogs, but that’s not what I started blogging to do.

However! Food is a really huge part of my life (and spirituality) and I really do love passing along a good recipe or two.

And as I mentioned in a recent post, summer just isn’t conducive to long, meditative posts for me. I’m too anxious to be out in the world living and doing and making. So for now, it’ll mostly be quick, simple, and fun posts. Meditative posts will return when it’s cold and boring outside.

And speaking of quick.

I have gotten myself in the habit of always only cooking elaborate dinners every night. I typically spend 2-3 hours working on dinner every night, with cleanup and everything. That’s way too much time in the kitchen every day when I have so many other projects I’d like to be working on. I do find it fun and satisfying, and our food is pretty fantastic (if I do say so myself) as a result; but sometimes, I’d like to give myself a break. Without resorting to junk food.

Part of the reason I spend so much time in the kitchen is my desire to make everything from scratch. That takes longer than opening up a can of this and mixing it with a box of that. USUALLY.

But real food can be quick, too. I just have to remind myself of this fact every once in a while.

Lately, I’m interested in building up a repertoire of super-quick and easy (but still wholesome) dinners for hectic days when I don’t have time for elaborate ones. I don’t have a lot of these types of recipes, to be honest.

But this recipe for Mexican Skillet fits the bill perfectly and has been a staple my whole life. Honest. I’ve been making it since I was ten years old.

Back then, we used minute rice and bouillon cubes for flavour. (In fact, the recipe originates from the back of an Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice box, circa 1992). We topped it with chopped iceberg lettuce and orange Kraft cheddar (Cheese should not be orange, you guys. It’s made out of milk. When did you last see orange milk.) Over the years I’ve adapted it for a more real foods diet, but it’s still simple, quick, and delicious. Better lettuce, better cheese, no powdered flavours, and real rice make this a winner.

The next time you have to whip together a quick dinner in less than half an hour, try this one out. You don’t even have to have the beef defrosted ahead of time — just throw the meat right in your skillet, frozen, with a bit of water; put on the lid and let it simmer until it’s ready to brown. It’ll only add another 10 minutes to your total cooking time. I did this the other day and still had time to tidy the kitchen before calling the family in to eat.

Mexican Skillet. Dinner in 30 minutes

Mexican Skillet and Rice

  • 1 cup uncooked rice (I like basmati)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 quart jar canned tomatoes, diced or whole (I use home-canned)
  • 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • chopped romaine lettuce (or other favourite. We’ve used arugula and spinach in a pinch)
  • grated cheddar cheese (preferably raw organic)

To start, get the rice cooking. I usually use basmati because it cooks up so quickly (20 minutes or less), but you can use your  favourite long-grain rice (including brown) — just adjust water and cooking time as needed. For basmati, add rice and 1 1/2 cups water to a small pot over high heat. Cook until it starts to bubble; then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until tender.

Meanwhile, brown ground beef with chopped onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, salt and chili powder. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Add cooked rice. Taste and adjust flavouring.

You’re done! Serve with lettuce and cheddar.

Ole!

 

6 Tips For Getting Green Salads on the Table More Often

6 tips to help get you and your family eating more green salads

Growing up, I always thought I wasn’t much of a salad person.

But that’s because my idea of what constituted a salad was very limited and sad.

The only salad I’d ever encountered was that of the Kraft variety — gluey bottled dressing drizzled over iceberg lettuce, wedges of watery greenhouse tomatoes, and slices of cucumbers, sprinkled with solid blocks called croutons. As far as I knew, there were five types of salad in the world: Ranch, French, Italian, Caesar, and Thousand Islands. All of them were pretty meh.

Even when I got older and started experimenting with other flavours from the bottled dressing aisle — creamy poppyseed, sweet onion, raspberry vinaigrette — I found myself terribly dissatisfied. Everything tasted flat and plastic-y. They would sit in my fridge door for literally years before I’d finally toss them.

And honestly, if that’s all there was to salad, I wasn’t missing out on much nutritionally. Iceberg lettuce and imported or hydroponically-grown vegetables are almost useless to the body, and bottled dressing is mostly just preservatives. No thanks.

In my later twenties, when I started getting serious about food, I finally discovered the glorious variety and spectacular flavours of real green salads. Garden-fresh romaine, spinach, mesclun, arugula, kale, and broccoli; tossed with zippy creamy dressings or sweet and zingy vinaigrettes. Salads topped with tangy fruit, crispy nuts, grilled meats, fresh herbs, and crumbled cheeses. They were packed with vitamins, protein, probiotics, and intrigue. They could even be a complete meal!

broccoli salad

But they were a lot of work. Composing a salad with hand-shredded leaves, homemade dressing, toasted nuts, and some kind of fruit took a lot of planning and hands-on time. It was too much effort for a side dish when I was already cooking the main dish from scratch. So salads were still pretty rare in our house, even though we loved them and they were so good for us.

Until I discovered that having a few key ingredients on hand at all times made me salad-ready anytime the passion for something crisp and cool took over.

See, the problem is that the main ingredient in most salads — greens — are terribly perishable. They don’t last long once you pick them and or/take them home from the market. So the key to seizing the salady moment is making sure you always have all the other ingredients handy when you get your hands on some fresh, crispy greens.

Here’s what I do and what I recommend, so that you always have the necessary elements on hand to make delicious, fresh, homemade salads all through salad season. (I’m just going to point out that winter is not green salad season here in Canada. I don’t eat green salads in winter, unless you count cole slaw. Although I sure do long for them!!)

So here are my tips for getting salad on your table on a more regular basis:

Experiment with different homemade salad recipes until you find some that you love.

If you’re not a big salad eater already, keep trying new ones until you hit on a favourite. It took me a long time to find ours. Even try kinds that you think you don’t like due to early exposure to the Kraft version.  I always thought I hated Greek salad until I tasted homemade Greek salad. Not even the same category!!

They’re a ton of work at first but persevere until you find a few your family loves. There is hardly anything more nutritious and refreshing you can serve your family. And they will get easier once you are comfortable preparing all the other parts.

Once you have these figured out, you can start prepping big batches of dressing and other toppings so you can throw together a quick salad at meal times without hassle.

The toppings I list below are the elements of our favourite salads. Yours might be a little different.

green salad

Make big(ger) batches of a few favourite dressings to keep on hand.

Ours are Caesar, sweet balsamic vinaigrette, and more recently, Greek. Homemade dressings can be a pain to mix up last-minute, but if you make them ahead of time you’ll be so grateful when you’re scrambling for a last-minute side dish. I like to keep our fridge stocked with these throughout the spring and summer so that they’re always handy.

I also find it essential to always have my fridge stocked with a batch of homemade mayo. With a bit of vinegar and other flavours or spices, homemade mayo can quickly be transformed into some of the most delicious creamy salad dressings you’ve ever tasted.

Toast batches of nuts.

Most salads benefit from a crunchy element. Nuts usually fit the bill perfectly, especially with sweet dressings.

And all nuts benefit from some toasting. It makes them crispier and enhances their flavour. But you don’t want to be toasting nuts while you’re also preparing the rest of your dinner. If you’re like me, you’ll burn them 75% of the time.

So here’s what I do.

My favourite nut is slices or slivered almonds; chopped pecans also make a terrific change.

I do about a cup or two at a time, which will last for quite a few salads.

Just pour your nuts into a dry large pan, and heat them over medium heat. DON’T LEAVE THE STOVE. Attend to them, stirring gently but continuously, until they’re a light golden colour. Remove from stove to cool, and store in an airtight container. (I like to keep them in a small mason jar.)

They’re ready to sprinkle onto a salad at a moment’s notice.

Keep your pantry stocked with nonperishable fruit.

I adore fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, sliced apple, etc) on my salads. But I don’t always have fresh fruit on hand. (Canada, remember? We only have fresh fruit available five months out of the year). Dried and canned fruit are a wonderful, convenient substitute when fresh isn’t available.

I find we eat salad much more often when I keep canned mandarin slices, canned pineapple, and dried cranberries on hand. They are a delightful addition to leafy salads!

Keep your fridge stocked with feta, fresh Parmesan and/or other cheeses.

Feta cheese is another ingredient I try to keep on hand during salad season. It really zips up an otherwise boring salad, and takes little effort to crumble on top of your greens (or tomatoes or cucumbers.) If you don’t care for feta, you might prefer goat cheese or even Parmesan. Just a suggestion.

Our Favourite Salads

To get you inspired, here are our favourite salad varieties that use combinations of the above ingredients:

  • Fruity: mixed sweet greens (lettuces, baby spinach, field greens, etc), sweet balsamic vinaigrette, fresh cilantro leaves, toasted almonds, and any fruit (fresh berries, dried cranberries, mandarin slices, pineapple chunks, etc)
  • Greek: romaine lettuce, sliced cucumbers, garden-fresh tomatoes, Greek dressing, crumbled feta. (For a small batch of dressing: 6 Tbsp olive oil, 1.5 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 pressed garlic gloves, 1 tsp oregano)

What are your favourite salads? I could always use some more ideas!

Tempura Dandelions: Adventures in Beginner Foraging

Tempura Dandelions (Battered and deep-fried!)

(Note: I realize this post might be coming a little late at the end of May. Most of the dandelions in my area have just turned to white fluff. Bummer! But I figured if I didn’t share this now, I never would! If you live in the northern states/provinces, maybe you still have a chance to grab some yellow dandies and try this unique treat. If not, pin for next year!)

I’ve always loved the idea of foraging. Eating for free from the wild. Enjoying nourishing foods that others might overlook or consider “weeds.” I get giddy when I come across a fruit-heavy black raspberry bush or mulberry tree in the woods, just standing there. Waiting for me to pluck its warm, juicy fruit from the branch and enjoy. It just seems so magical and slightly sacred.

But I’ve always assumed foraging was mostly too complicated for me. I figured it was generally too time-consuming, what with the hunting and gathering. I thought it would involve more study than I have to offer right now, getting to know unfamiliar plant names and methods of preparation.

So I was thrilled when I discovered a recipe for tempura (i.e.battered and deep-fried) dandelions. I know dandelions! And I know where to find them! The recipe is quite simple and uses all familiar ingredients.

I knew that dandelions were good for you, but I find the leaves and stems way too bitter. I’d never thought to use the flowers! This sounded perfect.

And upon further research, I was blown to discover just how incredibly nutritious they are! Their Latin name, Taraxacum officinale, translates roughly as “basic remedy,” as dandelion was once a valued medicinal plant that was cultivated as a general cure-all, especially for liver and kidney care. In fact, dandelions didn’t start out as weeds in North America: they were brought across the ocean as a valuable medicinal plant. Crazy, right? Dandelions are high in iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Why exactly do we consider them our lawn’s nemesis? They’re more valuable than our grass!

Anyway, I decided I had to give them a try. I invited Lydia to join me in gathering some dandelions from our yard (we don’t use sprays or fertilizers on our lawn, so I knew it was safe.) There’s a nice area between our yard and the field next to us where we could gather a nice crop. Of course she loved this part of the activity.

Picking dandelions . . . to EAT! Tutorial for tempura dandelions

Dandelions for making tempura dandies

And the final results were absolutely delicious! I think I ate about 20 dandelions in one sitting, as soon as they cooled. Lydia liked them all right; Ben loved them paired with my smoky paprika and cumin aoili.

Here’s the recipe if you want to make your own:

Tempura Dandelions

Adapted from The Rhythm of the Family by Amanda Blake Soule and Stephen Soule.

Note: this batter needs to be very, very thin. Watery, even. It just needs to barely coat the flowers with the thinnest possible film of batter. This will help keep the beautiful dandelion shape and give you a nice, crisp crust while the inside quickly softens.

I’ve also read (here) that if you want to reduce the bitter flavour, pull off the bracts (the little downward pointy leaf-like things at the base of the flower head, where the stem attaches). I went ahead and did this, just to make sure our first attempt was as tasty as possible. It’s a little time-consuming, though. You may choose to skip it.

Ingredients

  • Bowl of dandelion heads
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup ice-cold water, plus more as needed
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Plenty of heat-stable fat for frying (I used a combo of lard and tallow; you could try coconut oil)

Method

Begin by rinsing the dandelion heads. I ran mine through my salad spinner as well, though it’s not too important. They’ll look a little soggy and unappetizing at this point, but they’ll return to their original pretty shape when they’re fried.

In a small pot, begin to heat/melt your fat over medium-high heat — you want it to be between 1-2 inches deep.

In a small bowl, combine flour and cornstarch. In a second, larger bowl, beat egg until frothy, then add the ice water, vinegar, and salt, and beat some more. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined (you don’t want to overmix). If needed, add some more ice water until batter is thin and very watery.

Take your bowl of batter and your bowl of dandelions to your stove. Your fat should be nice and hot by now. Sprinkle a pinch of flour into the fat to test — if it immediately fizzes up, you’re ready.

Begin to dip the flower heads into the batter, one at a time, letting the watery batter drip off for a moment before  dropping them carefully in the hot fat, petal-side down. Once they’re golden, turn them over with tongs to fry the other side.

Frying tempura dandelions

When both sides are golden, remove dandies with tongs to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Continue dipping and frying dandelions in batches until they’re all done.

Serve alone or with your favourite mayo dip. Yum!

tempura dandelions

Tempura dandelions

Have you eaten dandelions or other “weeds”? How did you prepare them? Did you like them?

Disclosure: contains affiliate links.

Super-Easy, Best-Ever Homemade Mayo

Best-Ever Super-Easy Homemade Mayo

I don’t want to brag or anything, but I’m kind of a mayo ninja.

It comes from having tried and mastered every recipe out there. From Julia Child’s classic hand-whisked 3-yolk mayo, to a lacto-fermented version using whey strained from yogurt, to the simplest version using one room-temperature whole egg in a food processor. I’ve used almost every kind of oil (from coconut to EVOO — to which I say blech) and all manner of vinegars (to which I say too complicated.)

Eventually, I managed to combine the best of all these recipes to find the ultimate perfect (and ridiculously-easy) mayo recipe. In my humble opinion.

Even in the midst of first-trimester yuckiness, when I couldn’t bear to make dinner for a month and opening the fridge was an exercise in self-torture, I still managed to whip up a batch of my awesome homemade mayo.

It’s one of those things where the homemade version is SO AMAZING and the store-bought alternative SO AWFUL (mostly in terms of gross ingredients) that you just can’t go back once you’ve tasted the real thing. And it’s easy to boot!

If you have never tried homemade mayonnaise, you have not begun living. The stuff you buy in the store WISHES it was a mere imitation of the real thing. It is a mere shadow, an echo, a whisper of what beauty emerges when you emulsify oil with egg and lemon.

And once you’ve mastered homemade mayo, you’ve opened yourself up to an entire universe of incredible, gourmet dips, sauces and dressings:

  • If you add a couple of spices, you get this spectacular smoky paprika cumin aoli which tastes amazing with homemade sweet potato fries
  • Combined with creme fraiche, garlic, and a blend of herbs, you get delicious, good-for-you ranch dressing that will get your kiddos dipping fresh veggies to their (and your) heart’s content

And the list goes on! It’s great in tuna, macaroni, or Waldorf salad; it’s wonderful on sandwiches; it tastes divine on hard-boiled eggs . . . I can’t stop eating this mayo!

Homemade mayo on hard-boiled egg. Yum!(So obviously I’m not the best food photographer in the world. But believe me when I say this hard-boiled egg smothered in homemade mayo was one of the best things I ate all week.)

The best thing of all, I think, is the fact that you don’t have to feel guilty slathering your sandwiches in this delectable spread. It’s made with healthy ingredients and good fats, so you can enjoy it without regret!

Okay, I know my recipe has some sugar in it, and I know that sugar is evil. You can totally omit it. But to me, that tiny bit of sugar is the difference between “good” and “out-of-this-world.” Your call. Either way, at least it’s not Miracle Whip.

A Few Notes and Tips:

  • My one caveat is that you must use quality eggs from a source you know and trust, since they will remain raw. Fresh from a farm is ideal. I only use eggs from my parents’ chickens, which are free to roam and graze all day. I would be hesitant to use any old store-bought eggs, since I have no way of knowing whether the birds were healthy. I would not want to risk salmonella poisoning!
  • Lots of recipes require you to use yolks only, and many of them. I used to do this. I never knew what to do with the whites, and it made my mayo an unappetizing yellow. Turns out, I actually get lovelier, fluffier mayo if I use one whole egg. It’s cheaper and easier, too. Who knew.
  • While I’ve heard people say they had success with a blender or stick blender, I find the process is MUCH MUCH easier and more reliable with a food processor. (I use and love my Ninja). [UPDATE: I have since tried it with a stick blender, and I will never go back. It's unbelievably easy. I will include the instructions below.]

All that being said, let’s move on to the mayonnaise-making!

Homemade mayo - simple and super-tasty!

Simple, Scrumptious Homemade Mayo

Makes about 1 1/4 cups
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice (fresh is vastly superior, but bottled works too)
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup neutral-tasting oil (I usually use “light” olive oil, but have also liked cold-pressed sunflower oil and avocado oil. Do NOT use extra-virgin olive oil, because it’s disgusting in this.)

Now, you are much more likely to have success if you bring your egg and lemon juice to room temperature. You could let them sit on the counter for three hours, but usually when I want mayo, I want it RIGHT NOW.

So here’s what you do: crack your egg and pour your lemon juice into a small glass. Fill a bigger bowl with hot tap water, and immerse the cup in the water (without getting any water into the cup — the way some people warm up a baby bottle) for a few minutes until the contents have warmed to room temperature.

[UPDATE: STICK BLENDER METHOD. As I mentioned above, I have since found it even easier with an immersion blender. Warm your egg yolk and lemon juice as above in a wide-mouth pint jar (or similar container). Then throw in the rest of the ingredients. Stick your blender in there, turn it on, and watch as the ingredients magically turn into mayo in less than a minute!!]

Food processor method: Pour the warmed egg mixture into your food processor and blend for a few seconds, just to get it mixed.

Add the mustard powder, salt, and sugar, and blend a few seconds longer.

Now comes the slightly tricky part. You need to add the oil S-L-O-W-L-Y while the blade is running. Have your oil ready in the measuring cup to make pouring easy. Turn on the machine, and start to drizzle in the oil — the thinnest stream you can possibly manage. Keep it running, and continue to pour — again, s-l-o-w-l-y, until the oil is gone. Be amazed as the oily, messy contents of your food processor gradually and magically begin to turn white and creamy (emulsification, baby!). But don’t get hasty. Keep drizzling. This process will take you a couple of minutes, but it will be SO WORTH IT.

And you’re done! Scrape all that creamy deliciousness into a glass container with a rubber spatula and start slathering!

A Word on Storage:

I’m told homemade mayo can be kept in the fridge for a week or so, though I’ve gone longer. If you want to preserve it to last longer, you can try this method of lacto-fermentation, if you’re the kind of person who has whey hanging around in your fridge. (Just add a Tbsp liquid whey along with the lemon juice; then after it’s made, let it sit on the counter for 7 hours before refrigerating). I’ve done this dozens of times, but it adds a few steps, and lately I don’t need mine to last that long. It goes quickly when you start using it in all your dressings and dips!

Best-Ever Homemade Mayo (super-easy!)

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?

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