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DIY: Homemade Kombucha

17 Jul

Homemade Kombucha with Strawberries and Homemade Carbonated Lavender Kombucha from Second Fermentation

Home-brewed hombucha with fresh strawberries; fizzy lavender kombucha

I started a new kitchen project a few months ago, and I’ve been waiting until I was confident with the process to share it with you. I’ve entered the world of homemade kombucha!

Making kombucha is a fun, fairly simple, money-saving process and, once you get comfortable with it, you can make kombucha that tastes better than anything you find in a health food store. Kombucha is a naturally effervescent (slightly carbonated) fermented tea containing probiotics (good bacteria found in yogurt).

My mom’s friend had been making kombucha, so she gave me a SCOBY (pronounced ‘sko-bee’, Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) to start my own batch. I started really small by brewing one liter at a time. Here are the basics to making your own kombucha:

Ingredients
SCOBY kombucha starter (see FAQs below)
1/4 cup of mature, unflavored, kombucha liquid (get this from the same place as your SCOBY)
1 liter water (filtered/spring water is best)
3-4 black tea bags (preferably organic, but any unflavored black tea will work)
1/4 cup sugar (I use unbleached cane sugar, read about sugar options here)
1 clear glass container (you’ll want one that holds at least 2 liters of liquid)
1 clear glass container the the same size as above that can be sealed, or multiple smaller containers that can be sealed
1 clean cotton dish towel

First Fermentation
  1. Wash the glass container in the dishwasher or with very hot water.
  2. In a pot on the stove, bring 1 liter water to a boil. Particularly if you’re using tap water, let the water boil for at least 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of sugar and stir until dissolved.
  3. Remove from heat and add 3-4 black tea bags, cover, and let brew for about 10 minutes. Remove tea bags and let sit until room temperature.
  4. Wash your hands (not with antibacteria soap!) before touching the SCOBY. Any natural soap is fine, a little apple cider vinegar or already-made kombucha works, too.
  5. Pour the cooled tea and the kombucha starter liquid into the glass container. Carefully (with clean hands), place the SCOBY on top of the liquid. It’s best if it floats or is somewhere near the top.
  6. Cover the container with the cotton cloth and put in a warm place where it won’t be disturbed for about a week. I keep mine in the corner of the kitchen covered with the towel so it’s dark. If it’s cold the fermentation process will take a bit more time, but as long as it’s above 65 F it should be fine.
  7. Wait it out. I like to carefully check on my kombucha every few days to see that nothing funky (i.e. mold) is growing and that the SCOBY is still on top of the liquid. If you see mold at any point, you’ll need to throw everything out and start over with a new SCOBY. I haven’t run into this problem though, and as long as you keep the environment clean, you should be fine.
  8. After about a week, taste the kombucha to see if it’s a good sweetness level. I usually do this by removing the SCOBY with clean hands, giving the tea a tiny stir with a non-metal spoon, and then taking out a little spoonful to taste. The longer you wait, the tea will contain less sugar and taste for more vinegar-like. If it’s too sweet, you can re-cover and let it ferment longer (I’ve done up to 3 weeks in colder months). You can drink the kombucha at this point, but I recommend doing a quick second fermentation.

Second Fermentation

  1. When the kombucha in step 8 above is ready, clean the clear glass containers that can be sealed. You can use any size for this, but I prefer to use single-serve, 16 oz bottles.
  2. This is where you can get creative with flavoring! Start with something simple like a few pieces of fresh ginger (and see below for more ideas). Put the ginger or whichever fruit/herb/flavoring you’re using in the bottle. This is also where you can choose to filter the kombucha and get rid of any brown stringy material that has developed by using a fine mesh strainer. This doesn’t bother me so I just leave it in. Pour the kombucha into the bottle. Seal the bottle. Repeat until all kombucha has a second fermentation home.
  3. Place the sealed bottle(s) in a warm dark place for 1-3 days. I put the second fermentation inside a kitchen cabinet. You also might want to label the bottle with the date.
  4. After 1-3 days (less if you don’t want much carbonation, more if you like it fizzy), put into the fridge, which will stop the fermentation process. If there are small pieces like lavender buds in your batch, you’ll want to strain the kombucha before drinking.
  5. Enjoy!

DIY kombucha

My small and big SCOBYs in kombucha starter liquid

Frequently Asked Questions about Kombucha:

What are the kombucha tea health benefits? 
There are a variety of articles and studies debating and testing whether kombucha is good for you. I’m not a nutritionist, so please evaluate whether you personally feel comfortable drinking kombucha, but here’s my take: if it’s brewed safely in a clean environment and I’m not drinking gallons/day (I drink about 32 oz/week), I’m happy to enjoy it as beverage, not a medicine. I’ve noticed increased energy, a great clean feeling in my stomach after I drink it (which I can only attribute to the probiotics – good bacteria found in yogurt), and I like how it tastes. Some claim it detoxifies the body or improves your immune system – eating a plant-based, nutrient-rich diet will do that too – I’m more about balance and moderation.
Does it contain alcohol?
Yes, a very small amount, as it’s a fermented beverage. Some kombucha companies will write on the packaging not to consume if the buyer is pregnant or nursing. I’ve never noticed alcohol-related effects from drinking it, although I also don’t drink more than 16 oz in one day.
Isn’t buying kombucha easier than making it?
Maybe at first, but once you begin your DIY mini kombucha factory, reaching into the fridge is easier than going to the store. I do have a few favorite kombucha makers, though. Katalyst Kombucha, based in Greenfield, MA, has a great product and I love grabbing some on-tap Ginger Devotion from the Harvard Farmer’s Market. They’re local, organic, and know how to make some delicious booch. GT’s is also good if you’re looking for a pre-packaged option from a place like Harvest or Whole Foods – Lavender and Trilogy (raspberries, lemon, and ginger) are my favorite from GT Kombucha. Brewing it myself, however, I can experiment with different flavor combinations and brewing intensities, plus it’s way cheaper than the $4/bottle I sometimes spend at the market.
So how many flavors can you make?
Endless possibilities! I’ve seen people use everything from the more typical fresh ginger/lemon/herbal tea options to fruit, jam, spices, and juice. Adding a tea bag to the second fermentation is an easy way to add flavor: you can make kombucha with green tea, ginger tea, chai tea… I recently made black tea kombucha and then added a yerba mate tea bag. Delicious! Another favorite right now is a dried lavender with fresh ginger combination. Here are some ideas from Cultures for Health if you need inspiration.
Don’t I need one of those mushroom-looking things?
Yes, you do! You can purchase a kombucha tea starter kit online, but in the spirit of keeping food local and sharing with neighbors, why not find a SCOBY (also called the mother) and kombucha starter close to home? They travel very easily in a sealed container with some unflavored kombucha. Health food stores often have community boards where people might post free SCOBYs, or ask around to see who knows someone.
How do I get started?
Just like baking bread or organizing your closet, everyone has a different technique for making kombucha. Before I started making it and my SCOBY was sitting on my kitchen counter, I panicked that I would kill it and researched what to do by looking at YouTube videos for about two hours and reading great sites like this one on TheKitchn. Once I learned about a few different perspectives and saw that, while the SCOBY needs to be kept free from contamination, the living gelatinous disk is actually a lot more resilient than I initially thought.

NewKombuchaJar

Check out this huge Italian Fido jar. I can’t wait to use it!

So that’s the beginning of my kombucha story. I look forward to learning more and hope you’ll come along with me for the ride.

Have you or someone you know tried to make kombucha? I’d love to hear about it!

Delivered to Your Door: Blue Apron

27 Jun

BlueApron_Box

Blue Apron, a company based in Brooklyn, will send box of ingredients to your door once/week for three vegetarian or meat/seafood meals. With Blue Apron, subscribers can put together convenient home-cooked meals while utilizing new recipes and ingredients.

Cara Eisenpress from Blue Apron AND Big Girls Small Kitchen (her blog is amazing, if you aren’t already a fan) emailed me and asked if I’d like to try a Blue Apron box. Of course I did! So my insulated vegetarian meal box arrived in the mail on a Wednesday, and the contents were still cold when I opened it up after work. On the top was a letter from the Blue Apron Team, along with three beautifully illustrated recipe pages.

StirFryIngredients

Serving sizes are larger than estimated in the recipes, which was a nice surprise because one recipe was more than enough for a huge dinner for two and another single serving for lunch the next day.

Oil, salt, and pepper are not included in the box (the oil was particularly noticeable because I ran out of olive oil the week the box arrived!). Including all of the items would have been helpful, so you could literally not have a single item in your kitchen and still cook three delicious meals. But aside from those three items, everything else arrives portioned out and ready to prep.

Here are the three meals I made with the box:

BlueApronPizza

Whole Wheat Pizza Topped with Arugula Salad

Salad-topped pizza is one of my go-to options at a pizza place. Maybe I’m just tricking myself into thinking it’s healthier, but really, fresh greens on top of pizza is a good combo. The dough for this recipe arrived pre-made in a bag and I let it rise for a few hours. Closely following the recipe (i.e. trying not to make it up as I usually do), I spread out the dough on a large baking sheet, which resulted in a very thick whole wheat crust. Even though the recipe didn’t say to do this, I should have divided the dough into two and made two separate pizzas. Everything else, though – the tomato sauce, cheese, olives, and dressed salad on top was fantastic. I’ve made pizza a million times, but I felt very accomplished with this one!

BlueApronStirFry

Maple & Sesame Root Vegetable Stir-Fry

I cook a lot of stir-fries and sometimes I feel stuck using the same ingredients and flavors. This dish tastes like it was cooked in a restaurant, which was very rewarding. It was a little heavy on the sugar compared to my typical homemade stir-fry, but if I was using the box on a regular basis, I would just use a little less maple syrup. I also used fresh lotus root and sunchokes for the first time – trying these new ingredients was really exciting and delicious.

BlueApronRatatouille

Tempeh Ratatouille on Wheat Berries

This was my favorite of the three recipes, and also provided the opportunity to use two more new-to-me ingredients: tempeh and wheat berries. When my box arrived the graffiti eggplant had gone bad, so I had to buy another one, but aside from that all of the other ingredients were ready to go. I prepared the ingredients and began cooking the tempeh in my wok in stages as the recipe instructed. Once the tempeh was browned on all sides, I added the red pepper flakes, which promptly started smoking and left a nice black coating all over my wok. The recipe didn’t say to mix together the garlic, red pepper flakes, sugar, vinegar, and tomato paste before adding to the tempeh, but lesson learned on that one! Funny how following a recipe can sometimes make me forget common cooking sense. I transferred the tempeh over to another pan and, after that first little mishap, everything else fell into place perfectly. I ate this for three days straight – it made a lot of food and was so delicious.

As with any new culinary experience, I realized a few things about myself as a cook that I didn’t think about before this food box adventure:

  1. I rarely use recipes and, when I do use them, it’s only as a guide.
  2. There are a lot of basic ingredients I’ve never used.
  3. I love recipe testing and thinking about how I can improve recipes.

Trying out Blue Apron was a great experience. I love grocery shopping, but I know plenty of people who can’t stand it. For a homecook who has the disposable income to let someone else do the shopping and meal planning for them, this would be a great solution. It’s $60/box, which is more than I spend on groceries for the week, but to a lot of people the time and energy savings would be totally worth it. Plus, it’s like receiving a delicious present every week!

Thank you to Blue Apron for the complimentary box. As with all EatingPlaces posts, opinions are my own.

Roasted Lamb with Tzatziki and Spring Green Salad

15 Apr

I created a Greek-inspired lamb recipe. The Greek influence shouldn’t be too surprising – I’m always looking to regional flavors for my recipes. But the leg of lamb part – that’s something new for EatingPlaces.

Earlier this month I was invited to participate in the Second Annual American Lamb Pro-Am. Bloggers from the Greater Boston Area are invited to create an original recipe featuring lamb. After the recipes are posted, people vote for their favorite recipe. Voting has already started and will continue through April 26. To vote, click here. Based on the votes, top recipe-creators continue on to be paired with an amazing local chef and cook for folks as a team at the culminating lamb extravaganza American Lamb Pro-Am event on May 19. And Boston Chefs asked me to be a contestant!

So this week I picked up a 9-pound leg of lamb from the Boston Chefs Lamb Pick-Up Party at Tavern Road in South Boston. That’s a LOT of lamb! I had a great time meeting folks from Boston Chefs – Paul Schiavone (CEO) and Kate Vandeveld (Events Coordinator) – who are coordinating the Lamb Pro-Am event, and enjoying a cocktail and lamb apps from Tavern Road. More on Tavern Road another time, but for now, onto the recipes!

This meal has a few steps, but much of it can be done a two or three days in advance. If you like how this recipe sounds, you can help me get to the next level by voting here beginning on Wednesday. Plus, if I’m a finalist, I’ll cook this recipe for you at the live event!

Lamb with Mint Fennel Tzatziki Sauce and Spring Greens Salad

Roasted Lamb with Mint Fennel Tzatziki and Spring Green Salad

There are three main components to this dish: the lamb, tzatziki sauce, and greens with pickled onions. The onions, tzatziki, and herb marinade need to be made in advance, so I’ll begin with those:

Pickled Red Onions

Quick-Pickled Red Onions

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

1/4 cup rice vinegar

3/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

3 bay leaves

hot pepper of any sort (I used 2 dried pequin peppers)

3 red onions, cut into thin rounds

Combine the white vinegar, rice vinegar, water, sugar, bay leaves, and pepper in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the onions (I did this in two batches so they were completed covered with liquid) and cook just until the purple edges turn pink.

Pour the onions and liquid into a glass jar – 3 onions should snugly fit in a quart-size jar. Let cool to room temperature and then put in the refrigerator. Marinate at least overnight before eating.

Stored in the refrigerator they will keep for about two weeks, if you don’t eat them first!

Mint Fennel Tzatziki Sauce

Fennel and Mint Tzatziki

1 cup Greek yogurt (plain Fage works well)
2 green onions (bottoms cut off, roughly chop white and green parts)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice (juice of about one lemon)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup finely shaved bulb fennel

Blend all ingredients except for the fennel in a food processor. Once completely combined, stir in the shaved fennel. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Will keep for about 4 days.

Lamb Marinade

This is enough marinade for a 3-4 pound piece of lamb. If working with a piece over 5 pounds, double the recipe.

2 tablespoons lemon juice (juice of about one lemon)
4 cloves garlic
3 sprigs (about 1/3 cup) fresh rosemary, stems removed
7-8 sprigs (about 1/3 cup) fresh oregano, stems removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Blend all ingredients together in a food processor. Put aside while you prepare your leg of lamb (see below).

Roasted Leg of Lamb
Roasted Lamb

The star of the show, although I must stay the other components of this dish really hold their own as well. Give yourself enough time (at least 30 minutes) to trim the fat and tough connective tissue from the lamb. Removing these pieces is worth the investment and, once you get comfortable with the process, it’s kind of fun. I completely lost track of time dividing up the huge piece of meat into clean smaller pieces.

1 leg of lamb
kitchen string

Set up your work station for cleaning the lamb. I worked on a baking sheet with sides that was covered with a layer of paper towels. Using a sharp knife, kitchen sheers, and my hands, I slowly worked off the pieces of fat and anything else that wasn’t meat, putting the pieces into a bowl. You won’t be able to remove everything, but once you get started your bowl will begin to fill up fairly quickly. As you work, you’ll see that large pieces of meat separate when you remove the fat. This is fine, as you’ll be wrapping everything up with string into a little bundle.

Once you have the pieces of meat, put them together into a log. With your kitchen string sitting in a small pot next to you (I learned this from Chef Gordon Ramsay), wrap the string horizontally around the meat and tie a knot, leaving a foot-long tail. Then, make a loop with the side of the string connected to the larger ball, slide the loop over the log and drag it closest to you, pulling it tight. Continue making loops until the entire package is secure. For a great video on the process, go to 0:47 in this video.

Once your lamb is bundled up, rub the marinade all over it, wrap in plastic, and put in the fridge overnight or up to two days.

Cooking the Lamb

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Add a little vegetable oil to a cast-iron skillet or other large oven-proof pan. Set burner to medium-high until the oil is hot. Place the lamb in the oil and brown each side (about 2 minutes for each side).

Transfer the pan into the oven and set your timer for roughly 20 minutes per pound of meat. I was cooking three pounds, so at around 45 minutes I checked the temperature and, sure enough, it needed another 15 minutes.

Your thermometer should read at least 135F. For detailed information about lamb cooking and safety, look here.

When you reach the desired temperature, take the lamb out of the oven and tent some foil over the roast. Let sit for about 20 minutes (the lamb will continue cooking and juices will settle).

THEN…last step – put together a simple salad and plate your masterpiece!

Spring Green Salad

arugula
radicchio
blanched petite peas
pickled red onions (see above recipe)

Toss together arugula and radicchio with a few splashes of extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Plate greens and then add peas and onions on top.

If you’d like to plate this as a meal, see the top image. Or, if you’re looking for a small app, you could do something like the image below. Enjoy!

Lamb with Mint Fennel Tzatziki Sauce and Spring Greens Salad

The List: 13 Dishes for 2013

19 Feb

Plane flying over Oaxaca

Flying over Oaxaca

Last month I put out a call for international and regional recipes that I can cook this year on EatingPlaces. I received some excellent suggestions! So with your help, I’ve put together the list of items I’ll be trying out this year.

1. Oxtail Soup – different versions from all over the world, including China, South Africa, Korea, and Jamaica (recommended by Renee, with another vote from Krystal)

2. Bobotie – a South African baked dish of minced meat with an egg topping (recommended by Renee)

3. Kugel – a Jewish noodle dish I grew up eating, made either savory or sweet (recommended by Michelle)

4. Champorado – chocolate-flavored rice porridge from the Philippines (recommended by Bianca)

5. Scallion Pancakes with Spicy Dipping Sauce – Chinese snack of fried flour pancakes

6. Pierogi – Polish dumplings with a variety of stuffings, including potatoes, onions, cheese, cabbage, or meat

7. Jambalaya – Louisiana Creole rice dish

8. Pupusas – Salvadorian corn tortilla filled with cheese, meat, or beans

9. Colcannon – Irish dish made from mashed potatoes and kale

10. Injera – Ethiopian flatbread

11. Scotch Eggs – hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage and breadcrumbs from Scotland

12. Masala Chai – Indian hot spice tea

13. Lemon Rice – South Indian fragrant rice

So that’s the list! If you missed the opportunity to share an idea, just leave a comment below, as I’m always looking for new dishes to try out.

EDIT: As you may have noticed, I did not even come close to achieving this ’13 Dishes in 2013′ goal! However, I would like to extend this to 2014. So, continue to look forward to these dishes, and please send over any recipes/tips/other suggestions.

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