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Summer field trip: Cultured in Berkeley, CA

27 Aug

 

Last summer my travels took me to Boulder, Colorado, where I had hoped to gain some insight into the Jun culture.  Unfortunately, Tonic “herban” lounge, did not have staff members that were very communicative or interested in the process.  This summer, I had better luck meeting fermentation enthusiasts.  I was in Berkeley to take a movement workshop that was serendipitously located one block away from a fermentation kitchen called Cultured.

Cultured makes many flavors of kombucha along with pickles, sauerkraut and other things, depending largely on what produce is in season.  A single glass-fronted refrigerator serves as a store front.  My impression is that most of their product ends up on the shelves of other local establishments.  I had the pleasure of catching Alex Hozven, who runs the joint, for a short conversation about her kombucha process.

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This is the wall sized poster that graces the entrance of Cultured.

Alex makes some fancy flavors of kombucha.   Over the two weeks I was around, I tried yellow watermelon-juniper flavor, strawberry thyme, cucumber lime, and fennel flavors.

Just around the corner from the fridge, I could see the large fermentation vessels, and they didn’t just hold tea.  I was intrigued to see one kombucha container that had fresh nettles in it.  (nettles, my favorite!)  Another one held floating juniper berries.  Alex adds herbs into her primary ferments.  I asked her about this, and she explained that kombucha can live in any number of herbal tea environments.  For many of her ferments she uses a green tea base, and then adds flavor after the primary ferment (like I do), but with others she uses an herbal tea base and no tea– a great option for people who are avoiding caffeine.  With the herbal tea ferments, she uses starter fluid from her latest green tea batch to get it going.

It makes sense that herbal ferments would be best to try with your spare scoby, and not to let them keep going over many generations, or you could degrade the culture.  Probably some herbs work better than others, also:  I once tried to make a rosemary beer with tibicos, and the anti-bacterial properties of the rosemary killed my grains!   Although I frequently do herbal experiments with the primary ferment of tibicos, I’ve always been a purist with my kombucha and jun cultures.  Maybe it’s time to branch out….

The other thing that I noticed about Cultured’s kombucha is that the ingredient list includes honey.  Alex does not use honey in the primary ferment, but she does add some when she bottles it.  The extra sugar in the secondary ferment makes her bottles generously fizzy.  Tricky.

The ingredient list: notice the addition of seasonal herbs to the primary kombucha tea ferment, and honey to the secondary ferment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mmm, fennel! Consumed…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I browsed the refrigerator shelves at Cultured, I couldn’t resist picking out the weirdest pickle product possible.  They had something called kasuzuke, which is vegetables fermented in sake lees.  Sake is Japanese rice wine, and lees is the yeast sediment byproduct of wine making that brewers generally strain out to create a clearer product.  I’ve strained the lees out of my blackberry wine and honey wine/mead creations and thrown it away.  There were a few kasuzuke vegetable options, but of course I picked the most exotic sounding one.  I chose Negi, which turns out to be not so exotic.  It’s a variety of green onion.  Cultured’s kasuzuke was 16 dollars for a 12 oz container:  not something I would buy every day, but also it seems like a many-tiered creation process that I might never take the time to make.  Here it is.

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I ate some one night on toast along with avocado, but I haven’t fully decided what to do with the stuff.  Its appeal is less for newbies and more for seasoned fermentophiles.  The gooey white lees takes up just as much room as the veggies in the container.  It has a certain “ick” factor to it this way.  The taste is oddly sweet and pungent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High Season: what’s brewing in your cabinet?

26 Jun

As we sweat through another midsummer, fermentations thrive! Here’s what I have in my cabinet today. A few are alcohol infusions, most are ferments.

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I have some writing to do about these, I guess! Stay tuned.

Congee

21 Mar

The last post I published had to do with me getting a cold.  Luckily, I am over that hurdle now, but in the meantime I came up with a great healing breakfast that utilizes a recent fermentation that I posted:  Mak Kimchi.    Almost every day last week, I ate congee for breakfast, mixed with kimchi, some tamari sauce, and a fried duck egg on top.  It looked about like this:

20140321-225815.jpgCongee is a Chinese food that is commonly eaten during illness.  Part of the premise of congee as a healing food is that the rice porridge, cooked for an extended time, is  nourishing and easily digested so that vital chi is not wasted on the effort of digestion, but instead the body’s energy is reserved for the effort of healing.  I believe congee can be found in other Asian cuisines as well, but I was introduced to it at a New York downtown Chinese restaurant, appropriately named Congee Village.   Kimchi is decidedly Korean, so my preparation of congee could perhaps be called Asian fusion, although Doctor Google has told me that actually Koreans have a similar porridge called juk.

My dancer friend Rebecca often comes into rehearsals with a glow in her eye, saying “I made congee last night.”  The choreographer we work for has attested to her amazing congee making skills.  When I  asked her how she makes this awesome congee, she replied.  “It’s very easy, you just add a shitload of ginger.”

So, I followed Rebecca’s advice.  Here is my version of congee:

Adele’s Sick-Week Breakfast Congee:

Rinse 1 cup of rice.  I mixed half white and half brown rices together.  Traditionally, you would use a short grained sushi rice.

Put the rice in a 4 quart slow cooker.  Mix it with 1 tsp sesame oil.

Add 10 cups of water (that’s what I did this time) or chicken stock (more traditional), and a dash of salt.

On top, grate a shitload of ginger.  (whatever that means to you.  Sorry, I didn’t measure.)  I grated about two inches worth of ginger, basically, what I had on hand.

Cook on low in your slow cooker overnight.  I like to start my slow cooker on high for the first hour to heat things up, and after that, I turned it on low and set it for an 8 hour cook time.

To serve, add mak kimchi, tamari, and a fried egg that’s still a little runny on top.  Scallions would be nice too.

Enjoy!

Alewife’s Birthday toys

6 Sep

So what does a brooklyn alewife get for her birthday?  Fermentation toys! I have a few new toys to show and tell about.  The two big pieces of equipment are definitely unnecessary for a beginner fermenter– I’ve gotten along without them for a few years now.

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My birthday crock! That thing on the left is a weight to hold the veggies under the brine.

Recently I wrote about a failed moldy cucumber pickle recipe, and in response to that experiment, my love answered my desires and got me a birthday crock! No more moldy pickles!  Mine’s 5 L, which is as big as I think I’ll ever need, unless I start selling pickled things commercially.

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Woohoo! The Kimchi Cookbook: written by a fellow Brooklyner. Her kkakdugi recipe is a little different than mine. Probably more sophisticated.

Along with that, he bought me the pretty new kimchi cookbook. I have some playing to do!  I’ve already learned a few things about kimchi.  Chun’s brining process begins the fermentation for generally an hour to overnight, then she rinses all the salt off the veggies and adds her spice mix, and lets them ferment longer in that.  The only salt in the spice mix tends to be in some anchovy sauce, from what I can see, and then there is sugar added for the ferment.  Interesting.  My kkakdugi kimchi was brined and stayed in brine…  so this is a new approach for me, which is probably a bit lower in sodium.

 

 

A self-gift that I got in early summer (for my, errr, 3/4 birthday?) is an oak barrel for brewing kombucha in, from a company that custom-makes them down in Texas. The company sites this model of upright barrel for either vinegar making or kombucha. The barrel method is my first attempt at a continuous brew batch.  It seemed like the best idea in the world when I got it, and it does impart a nice oaky flavor to my brew that I quite like. What I don’t like is that it’s much harder to see what’s going on deep in the container, which makes me in general a bit less attentive to my brew. It’s not something you can fully clean out so well either, as the wood is porous, so after a year or so it’s supposed to expire. I’m not sure I would go with it again. My 5 L barrel was $70, and you can decide whether that investment is worth it in your own experimentation. I was very happy with the service from the company I ordered from: Oak Barrels Ltd.

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5L oak barrel that I have a continuous kombucha ferment in, since  June.

Pickle Fail (with a decent recipe)

24 Aug

After experimenting with pickling projects like sauerkraut, kimchi, and chutneys, I finally attempted the classic pickle this month.  I bought a bunch of Kirby cucumbers at my local farmer’s market, and on August 10 I put them in a brine with spices, left to sit until the 22nd. The result of my rather improvised recipe could have been perfect, ingredient-wise, but  what I ended up with was a moldy mess. The problem was my mediocre way of keeping the Kirbys under the brine. So sad. I had thought my method quite ingenious too: I filled a plastic bag with water, and put that inside my glass fermenting jar to weight and seal the top, with the lid on above that. In the course of 12 days, however, both cucumbers and garlic managed to weasel their way around the bag and protrude into air, leaving themselves vulnerable to molding.  I may have been able to avoid problems if I had checked on the pickles more often.

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Mold on my pickles and garlic. 

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Here’s my water-filled bag acting as a weight. Notice all the schmutz along the edges. Yuck.

Mold is not always a calamity. It’s often possible to skim mold off the top of a pickling ferment and save the layers underneath. Unfortunately, these pickles had enough mold per capita that I decided to recall the whole lot. My birthday is next week, so perhaps a real pickling crock is in my near future….

Anyway, I decided to take a chomp on one non-moldy pickle-end, and it was quite delicious. If you can keep your cukes under water, I think this recipe will serve quite well.  The mustard takes them to the spicy side:

Cucumber Pickles

6 Kirby cucumbers
6 cloves garlic, peeled but whole
1T mustard seeds
2 sprigs of dill with seeds
1/2c yogurt whey
2T sea salt
Filtered water to cover

Combine all ingredients in a jar or crock.  Use a plate with a water filled jar on top it or your crock- top to push the pickles below the water. Leave them for about 2 weeks (mine seemed ready at 12 days), or until pickles are the consistency of your liking.  The longer you go, the softer they will become. Refrigerate your pickles when they are ready, and eat!  I hope you have better luck than I.  

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One of my fermenting shelves.   Notice that early in the ferment when I took this picture, my pickles were behaving.  Neither the plastic bag nor Bruce Lee managed to weight my pickles down in the long run, though. The pickle jar is on the far left, accompanied by a cherry spirits infusion that I will write about soon, and a 5 gallon carboy of T’ej in the back.

Sauerkraut with Carrots and Burdock

30 Jun

Summer is really here. July 4th is this week, and people are lighting up their grills all around. Today I stopped by Brooklyn Kitchen.  I was looking for one thing, and fell upon another: CHEESE DOGS. My grandma Baba used to make a microwave cheese dog for me when I was a kid. She’d slice open an Oscar Meyer wiener, filling it with American Cheese, and nuke the puppy for a minute.  In contrast, the dogs I got today are a little more sophisticated, pre-stuffed, a lot more natural, and I prepared mine on a cast iron skillet.  At this point in my life, eating a hotdog is really a thinly disguised excuse for me to eat a grand amount of sauerkraut. As if I need an excuse….

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A couple of dogs with my sauerkraut (and sauteed purslane)

Some time ago, I wrote up a master recipe for sauerkraut. My recent creation is a little more embellished, although the basics remain the same.

Sauerkraut with Carrots and Burdock

Finely slice 1 head of cabbage

Scrub clean 1 carrot and 1-2 burdock roots. You don’t need to peel them.

Grate the carrot and the roots. I use a box grater on one of the courser settings.

Mix all the ingredients together with 1T sea salt. Let them sit for an hour or more, so that the salt starts to help the veggies release their juices. After an hour, massage and pound your kraut, and then stuff it tightly into a jar. A quart sized mason jar should be large enough. Your kraut needs to be macerated enough that the juices rise above the salad.  Let it sit, covered for 3 days to a month.  The kraut is ready when you think it tastes right.  Mine sat for about 5 days so far, and  it’s good enough to use, but I’m still going to let it stay out a little longer to continue it’s fermentation.  During the fermentation time, you should check the sauerkraut every day or two for done-ness.  This is also helpful because as gasses build up from the fermenting process, the container needs to be “burped.”

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The Kraut is in the jar

On Mold

Kraut can last a long time in the refrigerator once it is done fermenting.  I made a large batch last year that took me about 6 months to finish, and it was none the worse for wear.  The one problem you might come into contact with is mold.  I made a batch of my basic kraut, only using red cabbage, back in March, and somehow it hasn’t had much luck.  I’m not sure why, except that maybe it’s always been a little low on fluid.  The good news is that mold only grows where your veggies are exposed to air.  The stuff under the brine is just fine.  I’ve kept eating this one, carefully skimming off the mold when it grows.  White mold, according to other fermenters I’ve talked to, is pretty innocuous.  If you have blue mold, that’s a case to throw it out.  The stuff below looks blue in the picture, but that’s just because my camera is picking up the hues of the purple cabbage underneath.

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mold growing on red sauerkraut

The Spit of Old Scratch: XXX Fermented Hot Sauce

5 Apr
Devil

Old Scratch Himself. (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

One of my classic family stories involves hot sauce.   Years ago, my Uncle Al told my innocent, unsuspecting, 7-year-old sister to try some “delicious” salsa.  What he didn’t tell her was that the salsa had warning labels on it because it was so spicy.  My sis took a big slosh of the stuff onto her chip and ate it down, and then her entire body turned bright red.  She ended up garbling milk, the white liquid dribbling off her tongue and onto the floor because it was so hot.  My uncle had himself a laugh over it, whereas my sister and I lost a bit of respect for him that day.  In the last year or two, I heard my uncle recount the story, and he blamed his own daughter for feeding my sister the sauce.  So, I think he has a guilty conscience over the incident, too.  The following sauce could have a similar effect if put into the wrong hands.  I advise you to eat it and offer it with care.

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The ingredients

5 habañero peppers

1 poblano pepper

5 cloves of garlic

1.5 teaspoons mustard seeds, toasted

1 teaspoon sea salt

You want to wear gloves to protect the skin of your hands while you remove the stems and seeds, and finely dice your peppers, and certainly make sure not to wipe your eyes when handling them, or you will be in pain! Dice the garlic, and mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Let the peppers sit in the salt for a few hours to extract their juices.

Add 1 t apple cider vinegar.

Place the peppers and their brine into a glass jar- mind didn’t produce a ton of their own. Add water so that the peppers are immersed, and cover your jar. Let this sit at room temperature for a month. Skim off any mold that forms on the top.

Place your fermented pepper mixture in a food processor, with brine, and macerate until they are a liquidy pulp, place your sauce in a bottle and refrigerate until you are ready to consume. It won’t look like very much sauce– but a little really goes a long way!

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Finished product– appropriately placed between the kimchi and the yogurt in my fridge.

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