Friday, November 23, 2012

A Recipe for Elderberry Cold Syrup

During Sukkot we tent camp, and this year we were blessed with rain and cold. A great story in there about an early morning lightning bolt, but that's for another time. The upshot is, we both caught a bit of a head cold toward the end of the festival.

Fortunately, we have friends who had rented a vacation house not far from our camp, and the last couple of nights we stayed with them. The Mom of that family, like many I know, is a full-fledged nutritionist/general physician who knows how to keep her family healthy and out of the doctor's office! And when my DH and I showed up with sniffles, she already had a pot of garlicky chicken soup and a batch of fresh ginger tea going on the stove.

Between the colloidal silver and the grapefruit oil air freshener, she also plied us with elderberry syrup. I had never taken elderberry syrup before, and when I got home I looked into it in more detail. Here's what I found out.

Known as Sambucus negra (berries) and Sambucus canadensis (flowers), elder has a long history of use in traditional European medicine. The berries have also been used for making preserves, wines, winter cordials, and for adding flavor and color to other wines. The flower, berries, and bark of elderberry trees have been used for centuries by Native Americans for treating fever and joint pain.

Flowering elder

But in recent years, Israeli researchers at Hadassah-Hebrew University have developed five formulas based on the elderberry fruit that have been clinically proven to prevent and lessen all kinds of influenza. It apparently works to deactivate an enzyme that at least eight influenza viruses use to penetrate healthy cells in the lining of the nose and throat. Taken before infection, it prevents infection; taken after infection, it prevents the spread of the virus through the respiratory tract. This explains why my DH and I didn't get any worse after we started taking the elderberry syrup, and how the duration of our cold was shortened.

Elderberry cluster in relation to size of adult hand

Keep in mind that the branches and leaves of elderberry are poisonous (they contain a component also found in the unripe and raw fruit, as well as its seeds, and can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea), but that the bit of stem sometimes left on the berry is safe. Dried berries are less bitter than fresh, though you can use fresh ones if you have them properly identified and cooked to inactivate the sambunigrin, which is the poisonous offender. Which I wouldn't recommend unless you have studied with a reputable teacher, but that's the subject of another post ... but in the mean time, if you want to make this syrup, get dried berries from a reputable source. Mountain Rose Herbs carries them (much of what I've learned about the elderberry comes from their website), but they've been out of stock for a while, so I purchased mine here. Unfortunately, they're out of stock now as well, but the old stand-by, Frontier Coop, has them in stock.

There are many ways you can prepare elderberries - teas, tinctures, encapsulations, syrups, wine and cordials - and it is often combined with echinacea. For this recipe, however, I'm going to do a simple elderberry syrup.

Elderberry Cold/Flu Syrup
1/2 c. of dried elderberries
3 c. filtered water
1 c. local raw honey (use brown rice syrup or agave in equal amount if you want to give it to children under 2 years)
1 organic cinnamon stick
3-4 organic cloves
1 T. grated organic ginger

Using a stainless steel pan, bring the dried elderberries, cinnamon stick, and cloves to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about half an hour. After this step to rehydrate the berries, smash them with a potato masher to release all of their components into the mixture. Let the mixture cool off a bit, then strain it through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Grate fresh ginger into the strained mixture, stir it in, let it sit 10 minutes or so, then strain that as well. To this mixture, add the sweetener (the liquid should still be warm enough to dissolve the sweetener) and give it a good stir. I store mine in a glass swing-top bottle in the fridge, but you can use any kind of glass bottle. This will keep through the winter, though you shouldn't have any left over if you're taking some every day for preventive.

This syrup should also help you with excessive mucous and sore throat, and because it has anti-inflammatory properties, it should also help with upper respiratory issues due to a cold.

Take one tablespoon daily as preventive, and a teaspoon every 2-3 hours while sick.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Converting a Recipe to Match Your Baking Pan

Within the last year or so, I've made some pretty dramatic changes in the way I do business in the kitchen. The microwave is gone, having been replaced with a small convection oven that bakes potatoes, roasts chicken, and is perfect for pizza as well. For the most part, and wherever possible, I've stopped using a plastic zip bag for food storage and for my DH's lunch fixings and instead use these containers (handy, the right size, and safe in any area of the dishwasher). No longer do we "recycle" empty Gatorade bottles to use for filling with our own delicious well water and make our own "bottled water." Even though they went through the dishwasher pretty well, we found that such plastic heating up over and over is probably not good for us to be using to store water. We've been fortunate to find perfectly good stainless steel water bottles at the Goodwill for cheap; they wash well and have none of the BPA issues we were dealing with with the "recycled" Gatorade bottles.

Even something as simple as bread has become a challenge, in terms of price and content. While I long ago abandoned packaged food that lists more than a few ingredients on the label, buying bread for my DH's lunch has been, well, a convenience.  And yet, most commercial bread has so much junk in it that you can't even pronounce that I just can't justify feeding it to my family. I have been overlooking some of those ingredients for the sake of time. But even the "healthier" brands contain either canola or soybean oil, which are plain no good for you no matter what the label says. I have found a local brand that has acceptable ingredients, but it is outrageously expensive, with a price upwards of $5 for 16 slices, and I just cringe. I can calculate how much time it takes my husband to work to earn the money for that loaf, and it's simply not worth it.

So, I turned to homemade bread, which I've made off and on over the years and have certainly perfected in terms of ingredients, taste, texture, and shelf stability. But the problem I kept having was that the slices were too large for the sandwich container I wanted to use. I began searching for a way to "standardize" the bread I bake so that it fits into the container I use for sandwiches to keep them fresh and intact until lunch time. And this is what I found:

It's called a "Pullman pan," and it makes perfectly and uniformly shaped bread. This is closer to the vintage Pullman pan I actually have:

Why am I showing you both of these pictures? Several reasons. First off, notice the lid on the top photo; the back end of it has a lip that hooks around the top of the pan. The vintage pan lid is flat in that regard, which makes the lid not as secure. More on that later. But I also want you to notice that there is an "inner" dimension to the pan, and an "outer" dimension to the pan. The volume of your recipe is related to the "inner" dimension, not the "outer" one. This is important for the calculation I'm going to show you. Finally, the newer pans in almost all cases have an evil nonstick coating on them. If you're going to try this, find one that doesn't, and instead use butter or nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening such as this

So I looked in my favorite bread book and found Mr. Beard's recipe for sandwich bread. Here it is:

Note in the left margin on the first page the notes for "For my pan." I'll show you how I figured that out.

You can see this recipe calls for a "well-buttered 13 1/2 x 4 x 3 3/4 inch pan." I think Mr. Beard would agree with me on the nonstick issue, but I digress. How do you calculate the volume of this pan? Simple. Multiply length times width times height, or in this case, 13.5 x 4 x 3.75, which equals 202.5 cubic inches. This is the volume of the pan that corresponds to this particular recipe. What is the volume of my pan?

At first, I took the "outer" dimensions of the pan and got a somewhat larger volume as a result:  11 x 5 x 3.25 = 178.75 cubic inches. When I first made this recipe, I compared this volume to the volume of the pan used in the recipe, said to myself "Close enough," and plowed forward. Unfortunately, the dough pushed itself out of the pan as it was baking, and I had a somewhat ugly loaf of bread that was not shaped uniformly or sized properly for my sandwich container. So I had to go back to the calculator.

The "inner" dimensions of my existing pan are 10 x 4.75 x 3, considerably smaller than my initial measurements, and certainly smaller than the pan the recipe calls for. The volume on this pan is actually 142.5 cubic inches, or 142.5 divided by 202.5, or 0.7, or 70% the size of the size called for. So I need to shrink my recipe by 70% in order for the dough to properly fit the pan.

Here's how I did it.

2 packages of active dry yeast is 2 x 2.25 teaspoons is 4.5 teaspoons, times .7 = 3.15 teaspoons, which is a slightly rounded tablespoon. Check.

1.5 cups of warm water times .7 = 1.05 cups of warm water which is a cup plus about a bit less than a tablespoon. Check.

2 teaspoons of sugar times .7 = 1.4 teaspoons. A teaspoon and a half is close enough. Check.

6.5 cups of flour times .7 = 4.55 cups of flour, or 4 and a half cups plus almost a tablespoon. Check.

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of coarse salt is 5 teaspoons (3 teaspoons in a tablespoon) times .7 = 3.5 teaspoons, or a tablespoon plus half a teaspoon. Check.

1 stick of butter is 8 tablespoons of butter times .7 = 5.6 tablespoons of butter, which I rounded to six because, hey, I like butter. Check.

So my new recipe looks like this:

a slightly rounded tablespoon of yeast
a cup of warm water
a teaspoon and a half of sugar
4.5 cups of flour
a tablespoon and half a teaspoon of sea salt
six tablespoons of butter

So how did this conversion work out? I got a very nice loaf yesterday, good crumb and texture, but a bit too salty for my taste, so I'll kick back the salt to 2 teaspoons. Since I use sea salt and it's a bit chunkier than the salt called for in this recipe, I think it was a bit much. But all in all, the taste and texture were great.

And with the more accurate volume, I did not have bread spilling out of the pan, though I did take Beard's suggestion and weighted the top with a small cast iron skillet. Worked like a charm. I also did not rotate the loaf pan as he suggests, because I was afraid the lid would pop off, but baked it upright for the time called for, then popped it out of the pan and let it bake directly on the oven rack until it was nicely browned. 

The test was completed when I saw honey's face as he ate some of the warm bread with butter on it. He was very pleased, and said he would like this as his new sandwich bread. After making his lunch this morning, the bread fits very nicely into the sandwich container, and all is right with the world this morning!

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Lacto-fermented, or Cultured, Adventure

We've been on a fermented foods adventure for about nine months now, having expanded our initial yogurt-kefir foray with nondairy sources. Some people call it "lacto-fermented" because they use dairy-sourced whey in their recipes. Others use vegetable whey and may call it "cultured" instead.

Why did we start down this road? My DH does not tolerate dairy very well, and given that we are 50+ and digestive enzymes are on the downswing, I felt it was prudent to begin to rethink our diet.

There are many, many excellent sources of information on the Internet on this subject, and I'm going to list a few for you at the end of this post in case you want to do some further reading. But know this - we feel good. We rarely reach for an antacid any longer. Our digestion is so much improved. And I do believe it's because we've made some deliberate changes in our diet, part of which involves regular fermented foods at the table.

Having spent most of my life in southern New Mexico, when David and I got married, his culinary experience changed from the boring frozen pizza/Chinese takeout/greasy fries and hamburger that plagues the palates of so many uncared-for men. He had to learn to eat fresh roasted green chile, chopped and cooked with onions and tomatoes and garlic and served with eggs and tortillas. He found out what burritos are, as well as tacos and quesadillas. And some of these dishes begin with the traditional chips-and-salsa appetizer.

Here's my recipe for fermented salsa, which he takes every day in his lunch:

Fermented Salsa
 1# fresh tomatoes (plum mixed with a slicing variety)
1 medium white or sweet Mayan yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, fresh or fermented
1-2 fresh serranos or jalapenos, or a fresh jalapeno and several Big Jims, roasted and chopped
2 T. fresh oregano, rinsed and dried and stems removed
2-3 T. fresh cilantro, rinsed and dried and stems removed
1 T sea salt (I use either Celtic gray or pink Himalayan)
Juice of 2 fresh lemons or 3 fresh limes, depending on your taste
2 T whey (the water in the carton of yogurt that you normally drain off or toss out)
Note: if you don’t have whey, add an additional tablespoon of salt

It’s probably a good idea to wear rubber gloves if you’re going to handle hot chile peppers, but I never do. But I have also learned to keep my fingers out of my eyes for the next several hours afterward. Just a note of caution.

You’ll need a squeaky clean glass wide mouth quart canning jar for your fermenting vessel. Handy thing about it, the amount in this recipe fits a quart jar, so you really don’t have any mess unless you want to use a food processor. That makes it easier than all that crazy chopping, but it’s more cleanup. Your call. But my directions will be for using a food processor.

First off, try to get organic produce for this recipe. It’s not hard to grow most of it in the back yard, but of course you would have had to start it back in March ;-) Wash and core the tomatoes and toss them into the food processor. Some folks like their tomatoes blanched and peeled and seeded for this step, but I’m a tomato purist and eat the whole thing, skin and all. Haven’t died yet. Pulse the tomatoes until they’re chopped to your liking, and then transfer them to your quart jar.

Next, peel and cut the dry ends off the onion. Quarter it, toss it into the food processor and then get your garlic in there (more on fermented garlic below). Pulse the onions and garlic until they’re as fine as you want, then transfer to the quart jar.

Cut off the tops of the chiles with a sharp knife, remove the seeds and membranes, and toss the peppers into the food processor. Add the oregano and cilantro. Pulse it fine. Transfer to the jar. You want to make sure there’s at least an inch of head space (the space between the salsa and the jar opening) because it will bubble a bit.

Of course, if you’ve chosen not to use a food processor, you can chop up all the ingredients by hand and add them to the quart jar as you go.

By now you have almost a whole jar of pre-salsa. Add to it the salt, lemon juice, and whey, put the lid on the jar, and shake it up good. You may need to add a little filtered water if your tomatoes weren’t all that juicy. Once it’s well mixed, take off the lid and cover it with a piece of foil. Set it out on your counter for 3 days (don’t stir it until the end), give it a good stir (it will have bubbles around the edges, which is exactly what you want), and put a lid on it. Refrigerate. Keeps for weeks, if people don’t eat it up first.

Best with organic, non-GMO corn chips, though also good on top of tacos, scrambled or fried eggs, in salad dressing for taco salad, on baked or (gasp) fried potatoes (you get the idea).

Since it's harvest time, I recently found myself inundated with a variety of peppers from the gardens of good friends, as well as my own. This next recipe was so incredibly easy, and it's been tasty as well.

Fermented Peppers
A variety of peppers - bell, cubano, jalapeno, etc.
Sea salt
Filtered water

I washed all the peppers I wanted to ferment and let them drain while I scoured and rinsed with hot, hot water a half-gallon canning jar. I had a variety of colors to choose from, so I wanted to make the bottle visually interesting as well. Hey, sometimes you have to make things pretty to get somebody to try something new, okay?

I cut off the tops of the peppers, opening them up sufficiently to easily remove the seeds and membranes, then cut the stems out of the cut-off top so as not to waste that part. I then sliced the peppers into rings, tossing them into the canning jar as I went along. Once the jar started looking full, I used a wooden spoon to tamp them down so I could get it good and filled.

Once full, I added about 2 tablespoons of sea salt and 3 tablespoons of whey, and then covered the whole shebang with filtered water, leaving an inch of head space at the top of the jar, and put a lid on the jar so I could shake it up. Then, I replaced the lid with foil, let it sit on the counter for three days, and voila! Fermented pepper rings! I put a lid on the jar, shook it up good again, and then refrigerated it.

I've used them in quesadillas, on pizza, and eaten right out of the jar with a sandwich. They're slightly acidic, as you would expect with a lactic acid ferment, but they're quite tasty.

We use a good bit of garlic in this house, and because it's handy, I sometimes purchase already-chopped garlic in a jar. If you wanted to ferment that, you would open the jar, add an amount of sea salt to the jar appropriate to its size (using a 1 T per four cups ratio), twice that amount of whey, and mix it well. Cover the jar with foil and let it sit out on the counter for - you guess it - three days, give it a good stir, and put the lid back on before you refrigerate it. This adds a bit of zing to the flavor as well as a dose of probiotic bacteria that your intestines will love.

But if you want to try fermented whole garlic, try this method.

Fermented Garlic
However many crowns of garlic you want to get fermented
A clean canning jar (quart or half-gallon, depending on your volume)
A good sharp knife and a cutting board
Two identically-sized bowls

I found this video for how to quickly get the darned papery peels off the whole garlic, because the amount I was making involved using seven crowns of organic garlic. Not cloves, but crowns, the whole garlic plant minus the roots and the top. Here's the video:

It honestly works, but you do have to have identically sized bowls for it to turn out right. I just happened to have two 13-quart stainless steel bowls that were ridiculously too big, but got the job done without ruining my shoulder joints. Two smaller bowls are preferable, and I am now on the lookout at Goodwill for a match to the one I already have.

Once you have all the garlic peeled, slice off any remaining dried part that attaches the clove to the crown base, and any other parts that might be dried out. Sometimes that happens with garlic, and you don't want any brown spots because they can be a little chewy.

Add the peeled and cleaned garlic to your clean jar, leaving at least an inch of head space. If you're using a quart jar, add 1T. sea salt and 2T. whey. Cover with filtered water, mix it up good, and cover the jar with foil. After three days, it can be covered with the lid and stored in the refrigerator. Use just like you would use any other raw garlic clove, but with the added value of increasing your probiotic intake.

Finally, one last recipe before I give you some reading to do. We love beets at our house, and they are so, so good for you. Lots of minerals in them that we need in order for many physiological processes to occur properly. We eat them grated raw into salads, and add them to chocolate cake on those rare occasions I make a cake. But here's a way you can get all the value of the beets, plus a probiotic kick.

Beet Kvass
3-4 fresh organic beets, leaves removed, scrubbed well but unpeeled
1 T. sea salt
2 T. whey
Filtered water
Clean quart jar

Initially, halve or quarter the beets; do not shred them. If you cut them in chunks you can make 2-3 batches of kvass from the same beets.

Add the salt and whey and fill the jar with filtered water, leaving about an inch of head space. If you do not have whey, you can still make kvass, but you should add another teaspoon of sea salt. Stir well, and cover the jar with foil.

After 2 days out on the counter, remove the foil and carefully remove any mold on top of the kvass. Root vegetables tend to encourage mold growth, but this in no way harms your kvass unless you do not remove it as soon as it begins to grow. If you let it go longer, it may grow some tendrils down into the kvass, which is not a problem, but you want to get it early if you can.

On the third day, you will see another layer of mold. Carefully spoon it out and toss it down the drain. Set up another scrupulously clean jar into which you will filter the kvass, with a funnel and a cheesecloth-lined strainer on top to catch the beets. Strain the liquid into the clean jar. Then, I like to strain it once more through a coffee filter. This takes time, but removes any unwanted particulate. I then store the kvass in a swingtop bottle ( in the fridge.

To produce the second batch of kvass, dump the beet chunks into a bowl and rinse the fermenting jar with very hot water, scrubbing with a brush to remove any mold. Rinse the beets well and let them drain in a colander. Then, cut each chunk in half, exposing a new surface of the beet, and toss into the fermenting jar. Repeat the kvass preparation as before, adding salt and whey and filtered water to the once-fermented beets, keeping an eye on any mold production, and straining the kvass off from the beets. You can repeat this procedure three times with the same batch of beets. It's economical, delicious, and good for you.


Finally, here are a few sites I would recommend for further reading on technique, benefits, and recipes.
You will be pleased with this site if you follow the biblical food laws with your diet. and
You will have to sort through these websites if you follow the biblical food laws, but it's worth it. If I had the time and inclination, I would start a kosher cheeseslave website ;-)
This is my friend Sara's blog. She has some great recipes and a section on fermented foods. She does not, though, follow the biblical food laws, so you will have to adjust accordingly if your family eats biblically.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Raw Kale Salad Recipe

Okay, I'm finally coughing it up. It's my raw kale salad recipe. It's been to several gatherings, and at my own table, and every time I serve it people are, well, they just look happy when they're eating it. I think it so ridiculously nutritious, their bodies are saying, "Aaahhhh. Thank you thank you thank you!"

There are many variations you can do with this, but I tell you - raw, thinly sliced lacinato kale is not only good - it's good for you.

Raw Kale Salad
1 bunch lacinato kale, tough ends removed, stems removed and chopped, then leaves cut thin to near-chiffonade
¼ c. organic extra-virgin olive oil
½ T. gray Celtic sea salt
3 medium carrots, shredded
2 Braeburn apples, shredded or chopped into bit-sized pieces (your choice)
1 large beet, shredded
Juice of one organic lemon
Half cup of organic raisins
Half cup of pine nuts
If desired, crumbled feta cheese to taste

The technique of cutting the kale into thin strips is easiest to accomplish with the cutting blade of a food processor. If you’re going to use a knife, here’s a video:

Once you have the kale sliced, get it into a good-sized bowl and drench it with the olive oil. Sprinkle on the salt, then massage the kale for a minute or two to soften it. Then add the grated carrot and beet and chopped apple, then pour on the lemon juice and toss thoroughly. Add raisins, pine nuts, and feta and lightly toss. 

You can also add chopped pasture-raised homegrown chicken to this to round out the protein component and have a complete dinner. Or a leftover grilled salmon fillet, or some very thinly sliced ribeye. Of course, when you start adding a meat component, you might want to hold back on the raisins (except for chicken) because that might not be quite palatable. You could also add chopped hard boiled duck or chicken eggs to this, and it would be delicious.

I've also made a variation of this using half lacinato kale (also called dinosaur kale, for some strange reason) and half Russian red kale (because it's what I had growing in the garden) and it was also very good. 

Raw kale is rich in carotenoids, which is good for your eyes, especially if you are in the sun a lot. A serving of raw kale exceeds the minimum daily requirement for Vitamins A, C, and E, and gives you copper and manganese to boot. Add the raw beets and carrots, and you're really getting some good nutrition.

Of course, it's best if you can get most of your ingredients from your back yard. It's not too late to get in some beets and carrots, and there's certainly plenty of time for kale and other healthy greens. Go on! Get your hands in the dirt! And grow some food for your table. You'll feel better in a lot of ways.