Monday, February 28

Oh! natural

Lately, I have been so drawn to foods that require natural cycles (such as sprouting, fermenting, etc.) to make. As I have mentioned before, I am on quite the sprouting kick these days... I am sprouting EVERYTHING! Sprouting is so simple, and you can sprout just about every whole seed or grain in the bulk isle, assuming it has not been altered significantly during its processing. Some I have tried with success include: quinoa, peas, barley (hulled, not pearled), and buckwheat. Of these, my personal favorite sprout of the hour is sprouted peas: they taste just like a regular pea, though you get to watch it grow before you eat it! I am in the process of sprouting some green lentils and I am also exploring the world of sprouted grains, though I have not mastered these yet and am still seeking ways to use them one they have sprouted.
On another note, recall back in the fall when I mentioned that I had attended a Milwaukee Mushroom Growers meeting? I have been a bit under the radar with this endeavor, as it is a bit slower of a process than sprouting. However, I have lately (with the help of MadBioneer's resources) been able to expand some mushroom spawn that my friend Neal shared with me, and am in the process of fruiting them! More on this later. 
Step One: Layer spawn and sterilized coffee grounds in a jar covered with screen. Invert to drain and let the mycelium get to work!

I still am waiting for my mushroom spawn to take over the coffee grounds, but soon I will try my hand at  "shocking" the system, and if all goes as planned, I will have some tasty little button mushrooms in no time!

And my latest endeavor? I am trying my hand at fermentation, with a batch of homemade sauerkraut and some apple cider vinegar.
To make apple cider vinegar, just place some apple cider (without preservatives) in a large mouthed jar, covered with screen (to keep our winged friends out!). Leave it in a warm place for about 3 weeks. After one week, it should be hard cider and it should turn to vinegar after two more weeks. 

For some reason, there seems to be this stigma that homemade foods are difficult to make, and time consuming. I would have to argue differently! In this case, the natural cycles of fermentation do most of the grunt work and all I have to do is sit back and relax and enjoy the show.

Homemade Sauerkraut
I began the sauerkraut process last Sunday, by simply chopping my cabbage and combining it with salt. Then, with my fists, I pressed the cabbage into the bottom of a large bowl. This helps to break down the cabbage and allows the surface area to become coated in salt. Then, as with the apple cider vinegar, you just allow the cabbage to ferment in the brine for about three weeks. After the fermentation process has yielded the perfect sauerkraut to your likings, stick it in the fridge and enjoy it for up to 4 months (though I doubt it will last that long...) 
Photo courtesy of Straight From the Vine

Osmosis is perhaps the first natural cycle required in this recipe. Remember in grade school when we learned about osmosis? (If you have forgotten, not to worry! Check out this website). Essentially, water travels from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. Because the salt is an area of high concentration, the water that is inside the cabbage will leave the cabbage in effort to create an equilibrium. Thank goodness this works this way, because not only does this create a brine in which the cabbage can begin to ferment, but it also prevents the cabbage from rotting and it helps to maintain the crunchy-ness so characteristic of good sauerkraut. 

Luckily for me, my cousin in Texas is making sauerkraut for a living these days and was gracious enough to share with me her fermentation wisdom. Here are some tips from my cousin Stacey (also check out the wonderful things she is doing, at her website!):

-- Never use water because it will make your sauerkraut mushy. 
-- Use about three tablespoons of salt per five pounds of cabbage. The salt should yield plenty of brine, and you shouldn't need to add any water anyways.
-- Don't make batches smaller than one quart (about one head of cabbage). The bigger the batch, the better the flavor! 
-- Store the fermenting cabbage in an area between 65 and 75 degrees. 
-- Make sure your veggies stay underneath the brine! For this, you can use a jar filled with weights, and place it on top of the veggies, to hold them under the brine. Just keep mashing it down, to make sure it is under the brine... otherwise mold might appear (yuck!) 
-- After about three weeks, it should have its best flavor. The warmer it is, the faster it ferments, so please! Try it along the way!

Happy (natural) eating! 

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