Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fermented Pickles

I have made refrigerator pickles before, but this time, I wanted to try my hand at fermented pickles. 

 Fermentation does not =alcohol, Sourdough bread is fermented. Fermentation produces those healthy bacteria we refer to as probiotics. Fermented foods have a plethora of health benefits.

Fermentation also helps stave off spoilage. Before people knew about probiotics, they knew that fermented foods last a long time. Before refrigeration, this was critical to survival. Now, in the age of global produce trade, it's still convenient and cost effective. I bought a half case of pickling cucumbers for $20. That's about 20-30 pounds of cucumbers. We ate about a third fresh, I pickled 15 quarts, and I lost a few to spoilage :( The salt and vinegar I used are negligible. That's a lot of food for $20. 

I used the instructions in Every Step in Canning: The Cold Pack Method, a free e-book available from Amazon and the Gutenberg Project. Originally published in 1920 as a pamphlet for housewives, I had to make a few adjustments. For instance, I used canning jars instead of a crock or wooden tub. I screwed my lids on instead of sealing my jars with paraffin, and I moved my jars to the refrigerator after they finished fermenting. I suppose, in theory, refrigeration is technically unnecessary, but I found that 2 additional days on top of the fridge made my pickles slightly more sour than I would prefer. I have room in the fridge, so in they went. They should be able to hang out in there indefinitely. I'm hoping to hold onto these until next spring. 

First, lets talk about cucumbers. 

Pickling cucumbers are smaller and firmer than garden cukes. The pickling process softens them a bit. While these raw pickles are much crisper than ones you find in the store or homemade heat-canned pickles, they do still need to be quite firm to hold up to the process. Garden cucumbers are better suited to a refrigerator pickle. 

Other veggies besides cucumbers will work well in this preparation. Watermelon rind, radishes, green tomatoes, green beans, turnips, carrots, and anything of a similar texture will work. I have only used cucumbers, but I do plan to do this with watermelon rind this summer. 

Alrighty, let's get started. 

First, wash your cucumbers well. If they come from a grocery store, they may have a wax coating. Scrub that off. Yuck.

Next, slice them, quarter them, or whatever. If you have a LARGE container, such as a glass gallon jar, you may leave them whole. Smaller jars won't hold whole pickles.

A word about containers. You want something stable. There is vinegar involved here. Metal and plastic are no-nos. Glass, crockery, even "non-pitchy wood", whatever that means, are fine. When in doubt, go with glass. 

Wash your containers. There is no need to sterilize as in canning. Just soap and water. 

These pickles are sliced the long way, and a sprig of dill rests at the bottom.

Next, pack your jars. If you wish, put a sprig or two of fresh dill in the bottom of your jar, or whatever spices you wish. You don't need dill or pickling spice. Most "dill pickles" in the grocery store have no dill. They are just plain pickles. My first batch was plain. They are quite flavorful all on their own. 

Then lay the jar on its side. Pack the cucumbers firmly into the jar. When the brine goes in, everything will loosen up and shift around a bit. You want them to stay in place.


Leave a bit of room at the top. The pickles must be completely submerged. If one piece sticks out, the whole jar will spoil. 

Brining solution

Now it's time to mix the brine. 

To one gallon of clean, filtered drinking water, add 1 cup vinegar and 3/4 cup salt. You can use whatever kind of vinegar and salt you like. This is a very mild brine. It's NOT a pickling solution. This solution alone will not preserve your pickles. The vinegar in this brine will only protect your cucumbers until the fermentation can kick in. It's just a booster. 

I chose raw, organic apple cider vinegar, mainly for the antifungal benefits. It's the only vinegar approved for Gem's Candida Diet. Because these pickles have no sugar, and no additives or preservatives-or dyes, did you know most pickles have yellow dye? Why?!!?-they are safe for Gem, and anyone else on a variety of special diets.

Choose your salt wisely. The salt will concentrate in the pickles. My kids reported that the pickles I made were very salty. (They still downed a quart for lunch, so they weren't bad, just saltier than expected.) Pickling salt is a low-quality salt. It has a strong flavor. I would recommend using a good-tasting salt with a flavor you prefer. I used an inexpensive sea salt

You will need half as much solution as the volume of your pickle containers. One gallon of brine will fill 2 gallon jars, or 8 quart jars. 

Fill the jars with brining solution to the tops. Make sure that the pickles are completely covered. If jars aren't packed tightly enough, the cucumbers may float to the top and spoil. 

Place the lids loosely. Don't screw them tight yet. Label them with the date. 

Place the jars in a safe, warm place. Heat speeds fermentation. I put mine on top of the fridge. This is my usual fermenting area :)  You can see my kombucha and my oil infusions up there as well.
In a day or two, you should see a few bubbles if you gently shake the jars. There's no sugar in here, so it won't get fizzy. Leave them up there for about a week. 

After they are sufficiently fermented, check the tops for scum. If any has formed, skim it off. Screw the lids on tightly. Move the jars to the refrigerator, a root cellar (if you don't live in Louisiana and you have one), or eat them up right away. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sushi Fried Rice

Our lunches are often thrown together from this and that, whatever I find in fridge and pantry. The results are often rather impressive. 
Today is one of those days. 
D brought home sushi a couple of days ago. I had leftover rice in the fridge. I tossed together the leftover dipping sauce and wasabi with a few pantry staples and -voila!- Sushi Fried Rice. 
Fried rice is one of my go-to recipes. It's much easier than you might think. The extra toppings turn a basic dish into something special. 

This is more of a process than a recipe. I didn't measure anything. It's all a matter of taste. I'll walk you through it. 

1. Heat a drizzle of oil in a skillet. 

2. Add diced onions. Saute lightly. Scootch them to the side. 

3. Beat an egg or two. Drizzle the eggs into the hot oil. Scramble. Scootch them over with the onions. 

4. Add the cold, leftover rice. Cold rice works best here. Other grains can be used in place of the rice. Quinoa is very good in this dish. 

5. Stir together the rice, onions and eggs, frying lightly. 

6. Pour dipping sauce or soy sauce over the top. Add a bit of wasabi. Stir well. 

7. Shred some carrot and sliver some pickled ginger and kale, if you have it. Fold those in. Heat through. 

8. Remove from heat. Spoon into bowls. Top with shredded nori and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve. 

Sugar free, low carb oat bran-flax porridge

Gemini is on the Candida Diet to help his tummy feel better. He is doing very well, but unfortunately, his favorite breakfast of "eatsmeal" is contraband. 
Luckily, this breakfast is an excellent replacement.

Heat 1 cup of water to boiling.

Add 1/2 cup oat bran and 1/4 cup flax meal.

Stir constantly until thick and creamy.

Remove from heat. Spoon into a bowl.

Top with coconut milk, butter or substitute, and a half packet of stevia

He likes it.