Archive for Snacks and Drinks

Water Kefir Flavors: Homemade Ginger Ale

Water Kefir Ginger Ale

I have already posted a general recipe for using water kefir grains to turn sugar and water into a carbonated probiotic beverage, and today I’m posting a more detailed recipe for my favorite flavor of water kefir: ginger ale.

This post has been delayed because my water kefir grains suffered some neglect recently while I was recovering from surgery and I wasn’t sure for a while that they were going to survive. They’re still not going quite as strong as they were before that, but they are fermenting and carbonating just fine, simply a little slower. Because of that, (and possibly also affected by the warmer spring weather) I still haven’t gotten my timetable down for maximum carbonation. Because of the health of the grains and the temperature and possibly other smaller factors can affect the exact speed of fermentation, it will probably take you a bit of experimentation to achieve maximum carbonation anyway.

Here are the carbonation tips I do have:

*Cap the jar tightly on the second fermentation to trap all the carbonation gases inside.

*Make sure you don’t ferment too long, as the carbonation with start to dissipate after it peaks. (I think this is my current problem, as my water kefir is getting fizzy in its original ferment, but is flat by the time we drink it.)

*On this last batch, instead of doing a true second fermentation, I put the jar of ginger and water kefir in the refrigerator to ‘steep’. The carbonation seemed to improve slightly, so I may incorporate this strategy into my further experiments on timing for peak carbonation.

In this recipe I assume that you have already followed the steps in my basic water kefir tutorial, and have a jar or pitcher of fermented water kefir that’s ready for flavoring and a second fermentation. Note that my original tutorial makes a half gallon of water kefir, while this recipe is for flavoring a quart. This allows you to split your water kefir for different flavorings if you’d like, but you can also simply double the flavoring recipe to make a half gallon of ginger ale.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

The water kefir already contains some excellent strains of probiotics, and adding fresh ginger supercharges its good effect on the digestion. I find this fermented ginger ale to be mildly energy boosting, easy on an upset stomach and overall a very good and gentle digestive tonic.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

My husband prefers this drink with a slightly shorter original fermentation time so it’s sweeter, while I prefer it with a moderate length fermentation so it has a bit stronger flavor, but we both enjoy it both ways. My husband thinks ‘ginger beer’ conveys the sense of the flavor better than ‘ginger ale’, but either way, this recipe is husband approved.

(A note on flavor: if the water kefir is over fermented it can develop an overly sharp, funky/musty flavor. My husband says it smells like vomit at this stage. If your water kefir isn’t going over well with your family, try experimenting with a slightly shorter fermentation time and see if that helps.)

Fermented Ginger Ale

1 quart unflavored water kefir

1/2-1 tsp freshly grated ginger

optional: 1 tsp cinnamon chips (pieces of cinnamon stick NOT baking chips)

Grate the fresh ginger into the water kefir. (I like to use a grater similar to this.) Half a teaspon will give you a mild and mellow ginger ale, while a full teaspoon will give you just a bit of sharpness to the ginger flavor, more link a typical ginger tea. If you like a very spicy, intense ginger ale flavor (along the lines of Blenheim), you could reasonably increase the ginger to 2 tsp or more. Experiment a bit and see what level of ginger flavor you prefer in your ginger ale.

The flavor with just fresh ginger is quite good, but sometimes I like to add about a teaspoon of cinnamon chips to add some depth and balance to the flavor, depending on whether I’m in the mood for the simple sharpness of plain ginger, or the more rounded complex flavor of ginger with cinnamon.

Cap the jar tightly and let sit on the counter for 1-2 days. Strain out the ginger (this mesh strainer is very handy for this sort of job) and drink immediately or refrigerate. (I often just refrigerate the whole jar with the ginger still in it and strain out the ginger as I pour it into my glass when I drink it.)

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Nacho Cheese Sauce

Nacho Cheese Sauce (made with real food ingredients!)

Just look at that cheesy gooeyness. Or is it gooey cheesiness?

Imagine this scenario: You’re invited to a party at the last minute and you’re supposed to bring a finger food to share. You suspect that everyone else will bring some kind of dessert, which fine and all, but you kind of get cranky if you don’t get some kind of protein for supper. The problem is finding a high protein food you have on hand that everyone else will consider acceptable party food.

No problem!

This nacho cheese sauce is mostly made out of cheese (along with a few other real food ingredients), but with that creamy processed food texture that will satisfy all your normal friends that it belongs at a party. In fact, if you could get your hands on an old Cheez Whiz jar, they’d probably never suspect the contents were homemade. (Just make sure you serve it warm–the homemade nacho cheese sauce thickens considerably when cold.)

Other good reasons to make this nacho cheese sauce include needing to make lunch in less than fifteen minutes, needing a midnight snack, having cheese and tortilla chips in the house, or having cheese and spoon in the house.

If you really want to replicate a processed food flavor, I recommend making this recipe using mild cheddar cheese and a few dashes of hot sauce. The sky’s the limit for flavor combinations though, if you want more of a gourmet and personalized cheese sauce. Mozzarella and green hot sauce? Extra sharp cheddar and lots of cayenne? Monterey Jack and a spoonful of chili powder? Okay, now I’m getting hungry…

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

As always, the quality of the ingredients you use determines exactly how healthy your end product is (for example, I always try to use organic cornstarch to avoid GMOs), but in any case you’re replacing a processed food that’s full of chemicals with a homemade sauce made from real foods, so it’s a vast improvement regardless.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Oh, so yummy! As you might imagine, this nacho cheese sauce is very much a husband approved recipe. (My husband has been known to mix it with salsa on occasion for a different twist.)

Nacho Cheese Sauce

inspired by this recipe from How to Cook Like Your Grandmother

1 1/2 TBSP butter

1 TBSP cornstarch

1/2 cup milk

1 ounce cream cheese

1 heaping cup of cheddar cheese (or cheese of choice)

dash of cayenne and/or dash of hot sauce

Melt the butter over a medium heat. Break (or cut) the cream cheese into three or four pieces so it melts into the sauce more easily when you add it. (But don’t add it yet.)

Turn down the heat to medium low (if you’re more patient than I am you can just start with the heat at medium low). Whisk the cornstarch and milk into the melted butter.

Add the cream cheese and whisk until it’s fully melted in.

Add the cheddar cheese (or whatever kind of cheese you prefer) and whisk (or stir) it in until it’s completely melted and evenly blended into the sauce.

Mix in cayenne, hot sauce, or whatever seasonings you prefer.

Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers.

(The refrigerated nacho sauce will develop a texture not unlike a loaf of american cheese, so if you like you can pour the leftovers into a small loaf pan and experiment with this use of the sauce.)

 

 

How to Make Water Kefir (Probiotic Soda)

Water Kefir

The pitcher in the back is sugar-water-molasses ready to be fermented by the water kefir grains. The jar in the front is vanilla flavored water kefir that’s ready to drink. The color contrast between start and finish is not always this drastic, but it is usually noticeable.

 I’ve tried a variety of ferments. I’ve fermented all kinds of vegetables (the only one that has become a staple is ketchup), made kombucha (currently in hibernation), made milk kefir (which worked well for flavor, but was hard to consistently have fresh milk for at the right times, and my grains eventually died) and made tepache (which requires have fresh pineapple around, so it’s a fun occasional drink, not a staple).

I’ve only make making water kefir for about a month now, and I’m still working on how to achieve maximum carbonation in the finished product, but I have my routine down, and I’m thinking water kefir could be a new staple around here.

The real fun of water kefir is that it can easily be used to make homemade sodas ranging from any fruit flavor to ginger ale and root beer to herbal teas to whatever crazy flavor combination you want to try. However, unlike kombucha which quickly gets a strong tart flavor as it ferments, plain water kefir was a pleasantly mild flavor with just a bit of tart and sweet. While not particularly interesting, it is very drinkable on it’s own.

Both kombucha and water kefir seem to give me a similar energy boost when I drink them and I’ve been drinking quite a bit of water kefir, especially as I’ve realized that with its quick fermentation time, I don’t have to hoard it for ‘if I need it later’.

My favorite flavor of water kefir so far has been made by grating fresh ginger into the water kefir after its first fermentation. I’ll do some individual posts with more detailed water kefir soda recipes, but in the meant time, after straining out the water kefir grains you can try flavoring your soda with fresh ginger, or mix your water kefir half and half with any flavor of juice or tea (sweetened or unsweetened) before doing a second fermentation. (My husband really liked the water kefir I flavored with sweetened peppermint tea.)

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

The only possible health concern here is the sugar, and since water kefir takes a relatively small amount of sugar, most of which is consumed by the grains themselves AND does best on unrefined sugars such as turbinado, I don’t see that being a barrier to a healthy rating.

Water kefir also contains a wide variety of beneficial yeasts and bacteria, which most of us could use a lot more of in our diets.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Sure, you can  mess this up if you try a flavoring that really doesn’t work right. (I’m going to give you a heads up that while I’ve never tried it with water kefir, I’ve had a bad experience trying to make celery soda.) But the basic flavor of water kefir is good, and gets even better with judicious flavorings.

Water Kefir 

1/2 cup water kefir grains

1/2 cup turbinado sugar or evaporated cane juice

1-2 tsp molasses (optional)

1 cup hot water

7 cups cold water

flavorings of choice

Let us assume that you are starting with a jar or baggie of water kefir grains. If they are active grains, such a might be given to you by a friend, you’re ready to go. If they’re dehydrated grains, such as might be ordered online, you’ll need to follow the instructions for rehydration first.

Once your grains are ready to go, you’ll need a container suitable for fermentation. I’ve been using these pitchers, which are a bit on the expensive side, but they’re really just the best for every kind of pouring, storing or fermenting. You could also use a two quart canning jar, or do half a batch in a regular quart jar.

Put the sugar and molasses (if using) into the bottom of your fermenting container. If using turbinado sugar the molasses is unnecessary, but more refined sugars need a little boost from the molasses to keep the water kefir grains healthy.

Pour about a cup of hot water over the sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. (There’s no need to measure this exactly–estimating is fine.) Add cold water until the fermentation container is almost full.

You’ll want to use filtered water for this, because water kefir grains are sensitive to chlorine.

The water should now be about room temperature, but if it’s still hot, you’ll need to wait for it too cool down before adding the kefir grains.

Add the water kefir grains to the sugar water mixture. Loosely cap the container, or cover it with cheesecloth or a clean dishtowel and let it sit out and ferment for about two days. (I’m finding that two days may be too long, as the kefir tends to ferment past the time of peak carbonation after two days of primary ferment and two days of secondary ferment. Experiment a bit to see how long works best for you.)

The color of your liquid will often be lighter after fermentation as the kefir grains have digested many of the nutrients in the molasses and given you happy probiotics in exchange.

Strain the liquid into a new container (another pitcher or jar or two quart jars). I generally use a nylon mesh strainer, but from what I’ve read, a stainless steel strainer is unlikely to harm the grains, despite some anti metal hype in connection with water kefir grains.

I like to leave my water kefir grains sitting in the strainer while I begin the process of making sugar water again in the first jar. I don’t wash the jar every time, as I figure it’s just growing more of the same good bacteria, but I do rinse it with hot water after every few uses or if it starts to look or smell like it needs to be washed. If you feel the need you can wash it or use a new jar for every batch.

The finished water kefir can now be flavored as desired, tightly capped and left out for a secondary ferment for 1-2 days. At this point strain out anything you don’t want left in (such as tea leaves or grated ginger) and transfer it to the refrigerator.

 

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Pumpkinless Spice Latte

Pumkinless Spice Latte

For this picture I garnished my spiced latte with an extra dribble/swirl of cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I don’t normally go to this trouble, but you can consider it a serving suggestion.

 I have nothing against pumpkin. I’m even quite fond of the idea of incorporating pumpkin into all kinds of foods, as happens every fall. However, I’m not such a fan of opening an entire can of pumpkin so I can add a tablespoon of it to my coffee and then forgetting I have the rest of the can sitting in my fridge while it gets pushed to the back and turns moldy. (Not that this would ever happen in my fridge. Ahem.)

 I tried making a pumpkin syrup last year so I could use up a larger amount of pumpkin in one go and have the syrup handy for lattes without the ‘whole can of pumpkin’ hassle, but the syrup really didn’t turn out that great.

This year, however, around the same time that my husband started talking about pumpkin spice lattes, I noticed some comments various places online about how really it was the spices that made a pumpkin spice latte, and Starbucks pumpkin spice latte contains no pumpkin.

Hmm.

 I’m sure that tablespoon of pumpkin really boosts the nutritional content of a coffee drink (something like half a gram of fiber and 50 IU of vitamin A by my calculations), but in this specific case I’m willing to sacrifice that sneaky bit of nutrition and eat my pumpkin in more intensive quantities. If you’re really desperate to sneak small amounts of pumpkin into your food, feel free to stir a tablespoon of pumpkin puree into this latte between adding the sugar and the milk.

 As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy with the metabolism boosting spices and fall flavor in this latte as it is.

 Oh, and I neglected to mention this in the video, but you can also chill this drink after you make it for a make ahead iced latte. (Or pour it over ice for an immediate iced latte, but I’m not personally not a big fan of diluting my drinks with ice. I do want to try making this with cold brewed espresso and see if it works well.)

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

 Fill in my usual rant about how coffee is bad for you if you make a habit of drinking ten cups a day or otherwise use it excessively, but it can be healthy in moderation, and in that context, consider the latte to be healthy.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

 This is a nice smooth, mildly spiced latte with the right taste of fall. You can increase the sweetener if you like sugar bomb style drinks, but even my husband, who is normally a sugar bomb type person enjoyed it at this level of sweetness. Conversely, if you really don’t like much sweetener, you could cut back on or leave the sugar out altogether and just fall spiced coffee instead of a latte.

‘Pumpkin’ Spiced Latte

1 serving

1 1/2 TBSP ground coffee (or however much coffee you normally like to use)

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp ginger

pinch of clove

1 TBSP turbinado sugar

1/4 cup cream, milk or frothed milk

10 servings

3/4 cup ground coffee (or however much coffee you normally like to use)

2 TBSP ground cinnamon

1 1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp clove (scant)

1/2 cup +2 TBSP turbinado sugar

2 1/2 cups cream, milk or frothed milk

(I generally make my coffee by the cup with a cone style filter. If you want to make a full pot of pumpkin spiced coffee using a french press or drip coffeemaker, you can use the 10 servings amount as a guide. The directions are the same for either set of amounts.)

Add spices to ground coffee and make coffee using your preferred method.

Add sugar and stir until it’s dissolved. (Turbinado sugar takes longer to dissolve than white sugar would, but it will eventually dissolve just fine in a hot liquid such as coffee.)

 Stir in cream, milk or frothed milk. (Have I mentioned that I’m a huge fan of my milk frother? I need to do a review of it for you all one of these days.)

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FAIL: Yummy but Crumbly Healthy Ritz Style Crackers

Healthy Homeamade Ritz Style Cracker Experiment

 Let me start by saying that I based this experiment on a more successful Cupcake Project Homemade Ritz Cracker recipe, and if you want to make homemade crackers with white flour, you should probably head over there and use that recipe and seems to work just fine.

 But as you know, I can’t just make a recipe as it’s written. I have to experiment and try new things and see if I can make healthier versions that work.

I thought these crackers did have really good flavor despite my healthiness modifications, so I might try reworking this recipe at some point, but for now, it really only produces yummy and healthy cracker crumbs.

Here are some things I would do differently the second time through:

 1. More flour: Whole pastry flour (soft white wheat) really does not absorb as much water as white flour or standard whole wheat flour. I’m afraid standard whole wheat flour would have too much whole wheat taste to make a good cracker, so I’d be inclined to just start with 3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour and then slowly add more water if it seems needed.

2. Thinner crackers: I should have split the dough between two cookie sheets (especially if I was using more flour, which would increase the amount of dough!) to try to get it thinner. It just wasn’t thin enough to get crisp and crackery in the that amount of baking time.

3. Possibly a long baking time: I know now that the crackers will NOT crisp up as they cool, so I would keep them in the oven until they have the right crispness, even if it takes longer that the official baking time.

4. Possibly replace the coconut oil: I used coconut oil in place of the vegetable oil called for in the original recipe because it’s the healthy oil that I have on hand, but coconut oil does seem to increase the crumbliness of baked goods in my experience, so it might be better to just use more butter, or lard, or possibly even olive oil.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Aside from the fact that the whole wheat flour doesn’t get soaked, there’s nothing in this recipe I would consider unhealthy at all.

Yumminess Rating: Kinda Yummy

 I thought the flavor was fabulous on these crackers (though that might be because I was going in with such low expectations of how the flavor would measure up to store bought crackers). My husband thought they were actually a little on the bland side. Either way, I have deduct points on texture because they were almost impossible to remove from the pan without disintegrating them.

Buttery Crackers (Crumbs)

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (ground from soft white wheat), plus a few more TBSP if needed

1 TBSP baking powder

1 TBSP turbinado sugar

1/4 tsp sea salt

6 TBSP cold butter, cut into chunks

2 TBSP coconut oil

about 1/4 cup water

2 TBSP butter, melted + 1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put the dry ingredients (the first four ingredients) into the food processor and pulse briefly to mix.

Add 6 TBSP butter, about 2 TBSP at a time, blending after each addition until the butter is thoroughly incorporated.

Add coconut oil and blend again. With the food processor running, trickle in water until the dough forms a ball. (If the dough is too soft you can add a few more TBSP of flour until it’s a consistency you can work with.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and press out the dough into the thin layer across the whole cookie sheet. Score the dough into cracker sized squares or rectangles. Poke several holes in each cracker with a fork.

Bake at 400 degrees for ten minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy.

Melt 2 TBSP butter and mix in 1/8 tsp salt. Brush across the tops of the crackers.

Very carefully attempt to remove crackers from the pan whole. Give up and enjoy your cracker crumbs!

Salted Caramel Mocha Latte

Healthy Salted Caramel Latte

 

Depending on who you ask, coffee is either the elixer of life which contains antioxidants and minerals, prevents diabetes, Alzheimers and cirrhosis of the liver or it’s a horrible, nasty addictive chemical that causes adrenal fatigue, raises blood pressure and blocks mineral absorption.

As usual, in my opinion it’s all a matter of balance. Coffee is a natural substance, which doesn’t mean it’s always safe and good in any quantity, but it is useful for situations when you need an extra boost of energy. If you find that you need that boost of energy every single day that it’s likely that you’re either addicted to it or you’re using it to cover up an underlying health problem, or both.

And, as with most foods, personal metabolism makes a big difference. Some of us are especially sensitive to caffeine and have to be extra careful when and how often we use it, and others can have three cups of coffee a day with no apparent effect.

This particular coffee drink is a favorite of mine. Being one of those people on the ‘sensitive to caffeine’ side of the scale (I’ve had decaf coffee keep me awake for hours) I don’t drink it often, but it’s a very nice alternative to going out for expensive coffee drinks on a Saturday morning when I want to be geared up for a day of fun events, or to add extra oomph to those weekday mornings when I’m about to pull back my hair, crank up my energizing music and attack a extra large pile of dirty dishes or organize all the closets in the house.

I don’t always add the salt, but I do really enjoy the salt+caramel combination, and I do find that having plenty of (healthy, natural) salt in my diet helps keep my metabolism and energy up in general.

You can make this latte with any syrups you like, but I use my homemade chocolate and caramel syrups so I know my fancy coffee drink is made with healthy sweeteners and no chemicals.

Healthiness Rating: Kinda Healthy

Salted Caramel Lattes are not a good food to base your entire healthy diet on, but, made with healthy ingredients, they’re also not going to wreck your healthy real food plan.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Do you really doubt me on this one?

Salted Caramel Mocha Latte

1/2 cup cold brew espresso or strong coffee

2 TBSP caramel syrup (or more to taste)

2 TBSP chocolate syrup (or more to taste)

1/8-1/4 tsp sea salt

1 1/4 cups raw milk

Mix all ingredients in a 16 oz glass. Add ice if desired. (If you have it, you can also top this with whipped cream, extra syrup and an extra pinch of salt and perhaps turbinado sugar, but I almost never have whipped cream around, so I don’t bother.)

Cold Brew ‘Espresso’

cold brew coffee and salted caramel latte 012

 I was first introduced to the concept of cold brewed coffee by Pioneer Woman. Her recipe also sparked my thought on whether the same method would work for cold brewed tea.

As this summer started I kept thinking I should make some more cold brewed coffee, but it never made it to the top of my to do list. Then one evening my husband informed me that he wanted to make cold brewed coffee. Not on his normal list of activities, but hey, it meant we’d have cold brewed coffee.

As he dumped a LOT of ground coffee into a quart jar he explained that he’d just read about this in the Cory Doctorow book he was reading and wanted to try it. In the book it was referred to as liquid gold. Nerds like their caffeine.

Unsurprisingly, my husband’s application of the nerd rules for making coffee turned out to be amazing. The result is more like espresso than standard coffee, containing enough caffeine that 10 oz of it made my not-so-sensitive-to-caffeine husband start twitching, but so smooth that I could probably enjoy drinking it black. (And that was even made using coffee beans that we hadn’t been drinking for normal coffee because I accidentally bought a roast that was too dark for us.) Considering that my ideal cup of coffee ranges from adding LOTS of cream to a full blown froofy drink with whipped cream on top, that is a high compliment to the flavor of this cold brew.

Of course, when you have a coffee that smooth and strong it also makes a fabulous froofy coffee drink. You get all of the benefit of the creaminess and sweetness of the extra ingredients without overwhelming the coffee flavor. Let me repeat, it is fabulous. Fantabulous, even.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

I could go on for a long time explaining my philosophy of the proper use of coffee, but very fast summary is that ingesting to much of anything is bad for you, but in reasonable quantities (and as with anything else, reasonable can vary from person to person depending on tolerance), coffee is a natural substance with some minor health benefits including trace minerals.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Oh, so very yummy!

Cold Brew ‘Espresso’

1 1/3 cups of coarsely ground (french press grind) coffee

about 3 cups of cold water

Put the ground coffee into a quart jar and fill it up the rest of the way with water. You can measure the coffee if you like, or just fill up the jar about 1/3 of the way.

Put the lid on the jar and (if you like) shake briefly to make sure all the coffee is moistened. Refrigerate overnight.

Filter the coffee through a normal coffee filter (you can set the filter in a coffee cone, mesh strainer or funnel for stability) or just filter the coffee through a mesh strainer without the coffee filter.

Drink it black, with any combination of cream/milk and sweetener, or in your favorite iced coffee drink recipe. You can even put a shot of it into a mug of hot water for very smooth normal strength cup of coffee.

In the video I said several times that the coffee/’espresso’ is mild. The word I really wanted was smooth.

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Kombucha (A Fermented Tea Drink)

How To Make Kombucha (A Fermented Tea Drink)

 Kombucha is a fermented tea drink (fermented in the probiotic sense, not so much the alcoholic sense, but if that disappoints you, check out this kombucha margarita recipe). It’s fizzy and tart and can be as sweet (or unsweet) as you want it to be. I haven’t experimented much with flavorings yet, but I’ve heard of people essentially using it as a base for soda, and adding fruit, fruit juice, herbs (think peppermint) and ginger once it’s finished it’s first fermenting stage.

Kombucha is famed for it’s health qualities, including being very high in b vitamins and being so high in probiotics that you have to ease yourself into drinking it, so as to avoid an unpleasant die off effect. Once you’ve acquired a kombucha habit though, you may be a kombucha-er for life, judging by stories I’ve read of people making kombucha in small aquariums so as to have enough…

Kombucha had a lot of steps, so it can seem involved to a beginner, but it’s not particularly hard once you get your kombucha routine figured out. First I’ll lay out some of the basics to understanding kombucha, and then I’ll give you my recipe and procedure.

Kombucha is fermented by using a scoby, which is a kind of mushroom that resembles a dead jellyfish. (I think they’re really cool looking, but sometimes there’s a fine line between cool and gross.) You must have a scoby to make kombucha, but the good news is that if you have a friend who makes kombucha, they probably have scobys coming out their ears and will be happy to give you one to start you off. Otherwise you can find a place order a scoby online. (There are tutorials for growing a scoby from storebought kombucha, but it seems a reformulation a few years ago has made this option a much less reliable source for scobys.)

As with most ferments, the scoby needs to be fed, and has it’s own particular preferences for food. It thrives best on black tea (including the caffeine) and white sugar. Because a large part of the caffeine and sugar are used up by the scoby, the finished product is still low in caffeine and sugar.

Because I’m particularly sensitive to caffeine I like to dunk my tea bags in boiling water for 30 seconds or so before making kombucha out of them, to keep the caffeine levels as low as possible in the finished product. It’s also possible to make kombucha out of green tea or herbals teas, but other teas should either be mixed with black tea, or alternated with batches of full black tea in order to keep your scoby healthy.

I also have been using organic evaporated cane juice as the sugar for my kombucha, which is just a bit less processed than white sugar, and eliminates any concerns about GMO sugar beets. My scoby seems perfectly happy with this sugar so far.

Scobys also don’t like teas with oils, so ginger and peppermint and such generally need to be saved for flavoring the kobmucha after it’s fully brewed (in the secondary ferment). I have successfully made kombucha with half black tea and half peppermint tea, but the kombucha didn’t ferment as quickly as normal, and the scoby didn’t grow at all as it normally does, so it clearly wasn’t good for the scoby, especially for a long term plan. My standard mix is half black tea and half green tea.

Scobys can handle brief contact with metal, but metal does weaken them over time, so it’s best to use glass jars for fermenting and plastic or wooden utensils for handling the scoby.

It’s usually recommended to ferment the kombucha for 10 to 14 days, but my husband and I prefer I much sweeter, only slightly tart kombucha, so we often ferment ours for as little as 3 to 4 days. If you’re very new to kombucha, you may want to taste your brew every day to get an idea of how long you should ferment it to your own taste. (The tartness does sometimes mellow a bit after the second ferment, so if you’re afraid you’ve let it go a bit too long, it may still be fine.)

And, if you accidentally let it ferment for very long, you can use your very vinegary kombucha as a substitute for apple cider vinegar!

Scobys do sometimes stain from the tea, or get holes torn in them, and may be clear (a young scoby) or white (a mature scoby), all of which is perfectly normal and still healthy. However, if your scoby develops any signs of mold, it needs to be discarded immediately.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Aside from possible considerations of the amount of sugar and/or caffeine left in the kombucha if a shorter ferment time is used, this drink pegs the healthiness scale as a classic fermented/probiotic addition to one’s diet. People make some pretty extravagant claims of renewed health and energy after making kombucha a part of their daily lives, and even if those claims are only half true, I think kombucha pretty clearly makes an improvement in the overall health of those who drink it on a regular basis.

Yumminess Rating: Kinda Yummy

I might be able to get this upgraded to a completely husband approved ‘yummy’ status when I experiment more with flavorings, but as it is, kombucha is something that’s very well tolerated in our diets, and sometimes even enjoyed, just not often craved.

Kombucha

makes 1 gallon

1 scoby (for each fermenting container, no matter what the size)

2 cups kombucha (from last batch–can substitute a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar if necessary)

1 cup sugar (white sugar, or evaporated cane juice)

4 cups water + 10 cups water

8 tea bags or tsp of loose tea (black tea, or half black and half green or herbal)

First ferment:

Heat 4 cups water to boiling. Mix in sugar. Add tea and let steep until water is cold to make a very strong tea concentrate.

If you have a previous batch of kombucha, move it to the second ferment or bottling stage as you wait for the tea concentrate to cool.

Once your tea concentrate is cooled, add it to your fermenting jar or container along with the 2 cups of kombucha reserved from your last batch, the other 10 cups of water (or as needed to fill your container) and the scoby. Cover loosely to allow gases to escape as they are produced by the fermenting process and set aside for anywhere from 3 to 14 days or more, depending how you tart you like the finished product.

Second ferment/bottling:

Pour off 2 cups of kombucha to add to your next batch. Set aside scoby on a clean plate or float in reserved kombucha. (This is a good time to check your scoby for any problems and remove the bottom layer if it’s getting too thick. “Too thick” is mostly measured by whether your kombucha is fermenting faster than you want it too.)

Pour the rest of the kombucha into mason jars, plastic bottles, or one large plastic jug. (Plastic makes it easier to tell when it’s fully carbonated when you’re just starting out.) If you want to add any flavorings, such as chopped ginger, fruit juice, peppermint tea bags, etc, now is the time to do that.

Tightly cap the bottles and let sit out overnight or until fully carbonated. (If using plastic bottles, until the plastic is hard and no longer soft or squeezable.) Refrigerate.

Homemade Yogurt, The Easy Way + How to Drain Yogurt for Thicker Greek Yogurt

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Homemade raw Greek yogurt, topped with honey and cinnamon.

 Over the past couple of years I have struggled with some fairly major health problems. leaving me with low energy most of the time, ranging to completely fatigued and exhausted on a bad day. Thankfully, the bad days are becoming less frequent than they used to be, but even on an average day I have far more project ideas than I have energy to put into projects.

This means, that while cooking healthy food is usually a priority for me, I really don’t like to make any of my projects  more involved or complicated than they have to be. Certain projects that others consider complex might fit nicely into my routine, but other projects, sometimes even one that don’t seem so complicated to most people, just seem overwhelming.

So, when I discovered a super easy way to make my own raw yogurt, I was thrilled. Yogurt is generally considered fairly fussy. Regulating the temperature is a pain and doesn’t seem to guarantee results no matter how carefully it’s done. Plus, I was on GAPS diet at the time, with little energy to spare, and a lot of special cooking to be done, and a lot of slowly fermented food needed on a regular basis. The idea that I could drop yogurt in a jar, add milk, and then just let the whole thing sit out in a warm spot to make yogurt was a relief.

Now, as simple as the process is, fermented foods do often have a bit of a finicky streak. You may immediately find a warm spot that happily makes yogurt without any problems, ever. More likely, you’ll have to try a couple warm spots to see which one ferments your milk at the speed which is convenient to your schedule. You may find that the warm spot on top of your fridge, that normally turns out yogurt like clockwork, overheats on your baking day, and the pervading warmth of the oven ferments your yogurt unexpectedly faster than normal.

To me, these inconsistencies are simply an expected part of cooking real and traditional food. Like making soup with leftovers, or marrying into a family that makes a lot of last minute plans, life is often something of a grab bag no matter how carefully we try to regiment it.

I have found this method of making yogurt to produce mostly consistent results, and the occasional batch of extra sour and thick yogurt, or runny yogurt can easily find their home in baked goods without dramatically disrupting the rhythm of my life. These odd batches of yogurt even seem to make fine starter for a new batch in most cases, as the inconsistencies are naturally evened out by the steady working of the natural probiotics and enzymes through slight disruptions of their routine.

If this sort of adaptation to changes in your life is not for you, I recommend googling ‘crockpot yogurt’ and continuing in your quest to bend the world to your will without detouring through my yogurt making method. Best of luck to you in that endeavor.

In the realm of adapting to changes, the video I have posted on  making yogurt is technically a fail video. It still demonstrates *how* to use my yogurt making technique, but in a moment of brain fog, I misremembered how much whey was needed for the amount of yogurt I was making, resulting in a less than optimal batch of yogurt. Feel free to both laugh at my fail and glean what you can from watching my methods.

Straining (or draining) the yogurt to make it thicker is completely optional, but since we really like greek style yogurt, and I find it really handy to have whey around for recipes (soaking whole wheat flour, ketchup, etc), I almost always do drain it.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Not only is the yogurt completely natural, but making your own plain yogurt gives you the ability to make your own flavored yogurts without any unnatural sweeteners or additives. Obviously, you get an extra boost to your enzymes if you start with raw milk, but you can use this method for any type of dairy you generally use (I haven’t tested it with non-dairy milks) and meet your general health standards.

Yumminess Rating: Kinda Yummy

I’ll be honest here: homemade yogurt isn’t something my husband raves about. He actually kinda likes Yoplaits.

As for myself, I don’t hate yogurt, but I’ve never been a huge fan of any kind of yogurt, even including Yoplait (which baffles my husband). But, throwing a couple splops (yes, that’s a very specific measurement, why do you ask?) of yogurt into a smoothie is easy and doesn’t adversely affect the taste, and if I mix the homemade yogurt with sufficient honey and fruit, my husband doesn’t mind eating it, and in the right mood, I rather enjoy it.

Homemade Yogurt

1 cup of whey or yogurt

3 cups of milk

Mix whey or yogurt with milk in a quart jar. Cover and set in a warm place for 12-24 hours. Refrigerate, or proceed to straining your yogurt first.

To make greek yogurt: Line a strainer or colander with cheesecloth or thin cotton (not terrycloth) dishtowel. Set on a bowl to catch the whey. Pour yogurt into the cheesecloth lined strainer and let it drain for a few hours, until it is your desired thickness. (You can also make yogurt cheese, which can be used as a cream cheese substitute, by draining the yogurt longer, until it’s very thick.) Using a large metal spoon or rubber spatula, transfer yogurt to a jar or covered bowl and store in refrigerator. Pour whey into a separate bowl or jar and store in refrigerator.

 

Tepache: A Fermented Pineapple Drink

Tepache: Fermented Pineapple Drink

Aldi often has fresh pineapples on sale for $1 or $1.29 each. Being the nerd and foodie that I am, I once weighed a pineapple after I’d cut off the top and rind and all the inedible bits to find out how much edible fruit was in a typical pineapple. It weighed right around two pounds, which makes the cost of the fruit on a sale pineapple 50 to 65 cents a pound.

Since my rule of thumb is that any food $1 a pound or less qualifies as cheap food, and I’m especially happy when I find basic, healthy food like fruit, veggies and meat in that price range, I began to make a habit of buying a pineapple or two whenever they went on sale.

However, despite that fact that I knew it was a screaming deal anyway, I started to wonder about all the parts of the pineapple I was throwing away. It seemed like rather a lot of waste. Wasn’t there any use for pineapple rinds?

Turns out , there is a use for them. Google turned up this recipe for tepache, a fermented mexican drink made from pineapple rinds, sugar, and a bit of cinnamon.

Traditionally, tepache is mixed with beer, but on it’s own it seems to have a very low to non-existent alcohol content (depending somewhat, of course, on just how long  you ferment it). We’ve used in rum based cocktails a couple of times, but we also just drink it straight as a kind of pineapple soda or use it as a smoothie base.

 Healthiness Rating: Healthy

It’s fruit based, probiotic, contains cinnamon which is good for your immune system and blood sugar response, and you can adjust the sugar content down for a more tart, less sweet drink if the turbinado sugar disturbs your healthy food sensibilities.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

As I’ve said in other recipes occasionally, this isn’t one of those foods that we discovered and decided we had to keep it on hand all the time. It’s a nice change of pace, and it tastes good (and yes, it’s husband approved), but it’s not something I often find myself craving.

Tepache

1-2 cups turbinado sugar (1 cup for a tart drink, 2 cups for a sweet drink)

12 cups water

1 pineapple

cinnamon and ginger to taste (1/2-1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4-1/2 tsp ginger)

optional: clove and/or nutmeg to taste

(Edited to add: A commenter on youtube mentioned using vanilla instead of cinnamon, which sounds good to me. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’d guess using about a TBSP or two of vanilla in place of or in addition to the other spices would be about right.)

Put the turbinado sugar and two cups water in a saucepan over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Cool.

Rinse the pineapple lightly, but don’t scrub too hard, or use cleaners–you don’t want to remove the natural yeasts that start the fermentation process. Cut the top and bottom off the pineapple, then cut off the peels (see video for more detailed instructions in cutting up your pineapple). Save the pineapple fruit for another use. (If desired, when  you cut up the fruit you can add the core to the tepache.

Put the peels in a large bowl or crock suitable for fermenting. Sprinkle with spices. Pour in sugar/water mixture and ten more cups of water. Cover peels with a small plate to keep them submerged.

Cover bowl with a clean dish towel and set aside to ferment for 3-5 days. It should be bubbly and a bit foamy like this when it’s ready to referigerate:

tepache foamRemove the peels and pour the tepache into a jug or jar. Cap tightly and refrigerate for two to three days until fizzy. (You can also drink it right away if you don’t care about carbonating it.)

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