A Mostly Pictorial Panko Lemon Garlic Tofu Recipe

Okay, so some people just HATE tofu. T, who grew up with it from childhood, LOATHED it until at some point in her twenties when… she got over it. It’s … just like any other ingredient, in that it’s a Thing to which you add Other Things and then it has flavor. Of course, meat allegedly has its own flavors even without additions, but that’s the blood, and we’re ignoring that. Meat (sans sangre) is flavorless, just as tofu is flavorless. As an ingredient, tofu is fine, and, even better, is lacking weird stringy bits and wobbly things you don’t want to identify. It’s a perfectly reasonable food, you just have to season it.

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 1

This recipe is adapted from Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken‘s.

We realized that, like most people, we’d fallen into a meal rut, with winter casseroles and heavy, savory things like beans. Our attempt at something piquant and unique was this dish, which is both crunchy and tangy. It turned out surprisingly well, it was (mostly) easy and quick to prepare, and a good use of odds and ends for side dishes and whatnot. And, if you love someone vegan or vegetarian? It’s well worth preparing during this ridiculous Hallmark holiday… celebrating the tang of lemon as an antidote to the saccharine of the holiday. *cough* Or something.

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 2

The marinade calls for two lemons, zest and juice; three cloves of garlic, agave, water, salt, and pepper. T left out the agave, and added a tablespoon of tapenade leftover from something, far more garlic than called for, and then she microwaved the lemons, which made them delightfully juicy. (And messy.) (She also did a frankly terrible job of zesting the lemons, because though frozen lemons preserve their great skin, after defrosting, the lemons are too juicy to work with, and the skin on Meyers especially is too thin and delicate, so, a word to the wise: zest the frozen lemons before defrosting, or better yet, before you freeze them…) It’s said that the tofu can marinate for up to three days in this blend, but we find that if we remove the water its packed in, tofu doesn’t need more than a half hour to marinate. We laid out our tofu chunks on a cookie sheet, stacked the sheets, and weighed them down with a cast-iron skillet. After an hour, we poured off all the water, unstacked the pans, and poured on our marinade. After about twenty minutes, we put the tofu in a series of zip-top bags, all of which proceeded to leak. (ANNOYING.)

Crispy Lemon Garlic Tofu 3

We’d forgotten how much of a chore the multi-step dredging food in flour and panko can be… since we’d not made anything which required these steps in about a year and a half, the last time we made faux crab cakes (squeeze-dried shredded zucchini, panko, Old Bay – tasty). Fortunately, after all the plate-of-flour-and-seasonings, plate-of-wet-binding, messy-sticky-hands thing, we discovered that this tofu dish works nicely baked – and there’s less a chance that your chef will get bored and forget she has something on the stove. Ahem.

IMG_20180211_190549

It’s easy to leave dish as vegan, as is, or, if you’re feeling particularly beleaguered that you’re ACTUALLY EATING TOFU and it’s NOT EVEN IN AN ASIAN DISH, you can use an egg whipped with water to make the recipe safely animal-product-y. The flour dredging is a place to layer in the flavors, to give your tofu the taste you prefer. We entirely forgot the nutritional yeast in the breading, but added pretty much everything else, including random herbs not called for, old packets of Parmesan from pizzerias, a sprinkle of Old Bay, even more garlic (because since when is three cloves enough????), and ground cayenne (because: we add it to EVERYTHING). Each time we ran short of the dredging blend, we remade it differently, and T didn’t follow any measurements at all. (It’s a wonder anything she makes ever turns out.) We did a test run of this dish after making something else, just in case, but it’s good enough to serve as a main dish with a couple of sides. The lemon shines through, and the exterior crunch is a nice contrast to the soft tofu insides. (It’s not as soft as it would have been, as firm tofu gets even MORE firm when you’ve a.) frozen it and b.) pressed out all of the water. If you dislike tofu for texture reasons, you might try that.) The recipe inventor finishes this with parsley and sliced lemons, but tonight, we’re going to make a buttery lemon sauce, which will really bring out that lovely tang. Pair this with steamed veg like green beans or asparagus, a lemon-infused rice, or lemon pasta, or savory roasted sprouts.

This was a surprisingly delicious meal, and perfect for the suddenly chilly evening. Here’s to home cooking, and the attractive nuisance that is a bored person in a kitchen.

Buying Spices

So, we watched this youtube video the other day on how to make “tuna” sliders out of unripe jackfruit (go – watch it – then come back and let’s talk). It really is an awesome recipe, and we’re nearly ready to make an attempt at it (it’s too hot, and we don’t have Old Bay Seasoning). That’s not what this post is about today, though.

Today, I want to talk about choice. Like, if you go to Amazon, and try to buy Old Bay Seasoning. Go ahead, go over there and drop it into the search box, then come back here and tell me how you found the experience. Did you locate what looked like the best deal? That would be the 24-ounce item that shows up first on the list. Do notice, though, that it is a “Fresh” item (so, you have to join some program or other in order to buy it) or an “add-on” item (which means you have to play grocery-cart bingo and put enough in your cart to actually get it delivered). Also notice that there are just about 100 different things from which to choose.

There’s a thing going on here that I think is important: I think that there is a payoff here on the part of Amazon in that you’re going to have to 1) join some program of theirs (which makes them money) or 2) add more things to your cart than you want to buy or 3) troll through literally 100+ items to figure out which one you can and should buy. I think that this level of product chaos is found in a few different places, and I suspect that there’s some degree of psychological testing going on here, to figure out what drives the most profit. Or perhaps this level of chaos actually accomplishes that, and this is simply the new normal when shopping on Amazon.

In my case, I decided that I really didn’t need the Old Bay and that I’d spend the couple dollars at the grocery store, rather than suffer through the buying process on Amazon. I emptied my cart (including the slippery add-on item which put itself on my “buy later” list, repeatedly) and went to buy the other things I wanted elsewhere. I’m sure I’ll use them for other dishes, and Amazon is perfectly prepared to drive a certain amount of business away in order to maximize revenue. They’re a store – that’s what they do.

This jumble of bad choices is what’s known as a dark pattern: something which drives the user to do something they do not want to do. Once you become familiar with dark patterns, you start to see them, and then start to look for them. In this case, I’m sure that I’ll continue to use Amazon. But I’m also sure that I’ll start paying attention and, if I find myself struggling to actually find the thing that I want, I’ll go elsewhere.

I ended up spending way more money than I’d intended to spend just then, but also bought a whole bunch of things that we needed: I went to the SF Herb Company’s culinary herbs page and simply went down the list, adding 1 of everything on there that we do use and have run out of. Those spices and a stop at the Asian market and we’re done. And some time today we’ll get our delivery and will have the joy of unboxing bulk spices! (below is a previous order)

SF Herb 1

-D

Eating the Resistance: Poland

Cabbage Rolls 1.03

After Warsaw fell in 1942, it seemed that Poland was pretty much done for. They decided otherwise.

We all know what the word “resistance” means, but Merriam-Webster’s secondary definition is also pretty much apropos. It is, “the capacity of a species or strain of microorganism to survive exposure to a toxic agent (as a drug) formerly effective against it.” We are the microorganisms – small and previously disorganized – who will survive the present toxicity. Poland’s resistance was successful because it involved virtually every member of society – men, women, children, from professionals to laborers and religious people. And, though it was shut away behind the Iron Curtain for fifty years, Poland’s resistant spirit reignited in the days of Solidarity under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa.

Obviously, we need to eat some Polish food to fuel ourselves for the winter ahead.

Cabbage Rolls 1.17

In another example of America’s melting-pot culinary tradition, many people from the South grew up eating cabbage rolls. T’s mother sometimes fixed them when she was growing up, but not frequently. Cabbage rolls are a lot of work, as we discovered. The nice thing about this recipe is that though some people add a couple of eggs to the filling, those can be left out with no terrible consequence. Ground chuck and pork is the original meat for the recipe, but it’s easy enough for the veg/ans to substitute a meat-analog in crumbled form, like Tofurky sausage and Quorn or Morning Star’s Griller crumbles. Avoiding all carbs? Leave out the rice and add chopped tomatoes. This is flexible comfort food, and can be as healthy as you like. Cabbage rolls are pretty much a meal within themselves, though a traditional side is noodles in mushroom gravy, or boiled potatoes. We ate them with baked cauliflower, because some days one must double-down on the veg. Some Polish Americans eat cabbage rolls browned in butter, with a bit of sour cream, but they’re also perfectly reasonable as is.

American Variation on Gołąbki

  • 2 tablespoons butter or oil
  • medium onion, diced
  • ¼ c. chopped parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, smooshed and diced
  • 2 chopped mushrooms, optional *we used dry porcini*
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound ground chuck + 1 pound ground pork OR 2 c. veggie crumbles
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten – OPTIONAL
  • 1½ cups white rice
  • ½ tbsp. salt
  • ½ tbsp. paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Cabbage Rolls 1.04

Choose a solid, good-sized green cabbage and core…
Cabbage Rolls 1.08

Add a 1″ slit to the bottom of the cabbage leaf …
Cabbage Rolls 1.11

Don’t forget parsley; shredded carrot or tomatoes.
Cabbage Rolls 1.14

…and now it all gets just a bit messy!


Cabbage Prep: With your newly whetted knife, with which your husband obviously intends to gut a cow, carefully core your cabbage from the bottom. Fill a large pot of water half-way and when it comes to a boil, put in your entire head of cabbage and let it boil. After about ten minutes, we fished out our cabbage head, leaving the water hot in case the core wasn’t quite soft enough, and gently begin to peel apart the leaves when it was slightly cooled. We made a pile of “reasonable to use” and “others” and set them aside. Some people prep the cabbage leaves by thinning the thick spine with a paring knife, and making a slit along it to make rolling easier. Be careful that the slit is only an inch long; cabbage leaves can be delicate.

Rice Prep: While the cabbage is boiling, prepare rice according to package instructions, BUT, only boil for ten minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside.

Brown Veggies: In your butter or oil, brown the chopped onion for about three minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic and turn off the heat, continuing to stir so it doesn’t burn. Stir in paprika and black pepper.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Roll ’em: In a mixing bowl, combine rice, meat, parsley, and your onion and spices mixture. Don’t forget your salt. This stage is a lot like making meat loaf, and most people advise you to use your hands. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop about a quarter cup of filling per cabbage leaf, cross the little triangles formed by the slit toward the stem end, fold over the sides, and roll them. Place them in a pan seam-side down.

Cabbage Rolls 1.12

You will need 3/4 c. of some kind of liquid to complete cooking the rice inside of the rolls, and to allow the rolls to plump. The two tablespoons of tomato paste will dissolve well in water or broth to fill that need. Some people just pour a little V8 in the pan, but cabbage is a watery vegetable that needs intense flavor, so don’t be afraid to add some. NB: If you’re not using meat, cook these rolls for 45 minutes. If you’re using meat, 1.5 hours is your baking time. Meat eaters, let your rolls rest for the same half hour you would a steak. Conventional wisdom is that cabbage rolls are better the next day, and they also freeze very well. And they’re good for you.


John Stuart Mill, in an address at the University of St. Andrews in 1867 said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.” While you may be uncomfortable with the labels of “bad” and “good” here, the point is to do something. Eat well. Sleep well. Do well. You are not defeated, not by winter cold nor war nor work nor worry. Decide otherwise.

Cabbage Rolls 1.18

The Unprepared Chef, or, How To Make An Imperfect Cheesecake

Blueberry Chevre Pie 4

Can you bake a cheesecake without cream cheese? T. asked the internets at large on a Wednesday afternoon. She was treated to dubious silences and a chorus of “NO” by well-meaning strangers when she perused the goods in her fridge and found a log of Laura Chenel chèvre – a mild and fresh Sonoma goat cheese. “It’s too bossy,” she was warned. “Too much flavor.” That’s as may be, but when you’re stuck on a writing project and have been cooking just because a.) you’re cold and cross, and b.) you’re craving an excuse to eat blueberries, and c.) did we mention cross? you just… go ahead and make that thing. Because, cheesecake. Sometimes life is less about if you could do a thing, than if you should

Normal people have… food on hand, in the house, and don’t need to make lightning raids on the pantry to create things out of odds and ends, but somehow, the end of the week always brings us to this weird pass. Maybe it’s just that we haven’t yet gotten into the habit of doing “big shops” for more than a few days at a time, a relic of our time in the UK when we went to the tiny market up the road daily. Maybe it’s just that we rarely have desserts that we make for ourselves (though D. frequently makes ginormous cakes and …carries them off to work) and we don’t think to have ingredients on hand. Maybe it’s just that SOMEONE is altogether too fond of cream cheese frosting for their ginormous work cakes. At any rate, T was determined to thaw some blueberries, and needed something to go with them. Enter the chèvre.

Possibly a traditional West Coast American cheesecake (sans eggs, unbaked) might not have worked out as well, but this was T’s usual kitchen sink veggie hybrid, which uses a box of Mori-Nu silken tofu to replace the additional protein and creaminess that eggs would have provided. A tablespoon of vanilla, together with half (4 oz. from an 8 oz. log) of a Laura Chenel chèvre cheese – no salt added, because chèvre is already salted – three tablespoons of castor sugar, and we were good to go. The ingredients she simply creamed together with a stick blender, and set aside.

Blueberry Chevre Pie 3

The unprepared chef traditionally never has digestive biscuits, gingersnaps, or anything else helpful — or homemade — but there’s always that stale packet of graham crackers she got for the nephews ages ago — they’ll do in a pinch for the crust. They won’t add much flavor, so freshly ground dried ginger and/or cinnamon to the dry crushed crackers is essential. One and a half cups of blueberry mixed with a half tablespoon of King Arthur Flour dried lemon juice, two tablespoons of sugar and 3/4 tablespoon of cornstarch was stirred to a thickening boil, and set aside for later… and then T put it together, baked it – sans water bath, just in a plain oven at 170°C/350°F for thirty-five minutes until the middle still jiggled but there were signs of tightening all around the edges.

T could hardly wait for the stuff to cool. Enquiring minds now wanted to know if it was any good… and it was! The slight tangyness provided by sour cream in many cheesecake recipes for more prepared chefs is provided by the chèvre. We actually wish we had used more than half the container; the Chenel is such a mild cheese and not so assertive that we couldn’t have used more of that piquancy (conversely, we could maybe have gotten the same effect with a tablespoon less of sugar – we’ll have to fiddle with it). Maybe we’re just on a late autumn citrus kick, but T. really wished she’d added more lemon in the form of zest to the berry topping, which she added to the room-temperature cooled pie. Next time. Next time.

Blueberry Chevre Pie 1

Until then, here’s to finding random things in the cupboards and the fridge and beating them into culinary submission.

In lieu of the pie…

Not every use of pumpkin this time of year ends in pie or a hideously over-sweetened “spiced” coffee drink of red cup fame. (There’s no pumpkin in those things, actually, so never mind…) D’s friend, Rainer, who emigrated from Germany, recently enjoyed some of D’s carrot cake and reminisced about a cake he ate growing up, made with Hokkaido pumpkins. It was, he described it, rich, dense, and spiced similarly. He then gave D. the recipe in …German. Fortunately, there’s Google.

The first thing we had to decipher is what a Hokkaido pumpkin is… and where to find one. The name easily enough identified it as yet another varietal of Japanese pumpkin, but it’s known in this part of California as a Red Kuri (or kari) squash. At our usual market we found something that looked … KIND OF like a red kuri in shape, but it was too large, and the color was more butternutty… and the grocery store brilliantly labelled it “Winter Squash.” Um. Yes. Full of detailed, helpful information, that name.

Red kuri – or Hokkaido squash – as you see in this cheater picture from Wikimedia Commons – are beautiful. Their small size and intensely colored rind are notable, and their inner flesh is kind of …pink. They’re on the sweeter side, and are carried locally at various farm markets, Whole Foods, Sprouts, and the like, though with the before-Thanksgiving run on hard squash and gourds, we couldn’t source any this time. We bought our “winter” squash for Tuesday soup and grated a kabocha instead. Another Japanese favorite, used in tempura, kabocha are hard and sweet and have the same bright orange flesh, so we figured it was a decent substitute.

Rainer’s Kürbiskuchen

200g soft butter —> 7/8 cup
150 g sugar —> 3/4
100 g of honey or maple syrup —> 1/3 c honey
4 egg yolks
500 g pumpkin flesh —> 17 oz
300g Hazelnuts —> 2 c. hazelnut flour
100 g flour —> 1 c. AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt,
1 teaspoon cinnamon,
nutmeg
some black pepper.
4 egg whites

200 g chocolate —> 1 c
dried pumpkin seeds for garnish

This recipe records the equivalents which we used – please note that they are not exact, nor did we entirely follow the recipe, though we were as faithful as we could be.

The what-to-mix-first portion of the recipe didn’t translate very well, but once you’ve made carrot cake, you can pretty well make this. As we had a few hopeful vegans around this holiday, we opted to make the cake vegan — so we made flax eggs and used Smart Balance. We cut the butter called for by half because …well, it just seemed like a lot, and there’s really nothing worse than a greasy cake. We baked it in an angel food cake pan and were astonished at how much oil there was left still in the pan afterward. We were actually a little worried, but it all came right …

German Pumpkin Cake 1

The instructions mentioned something about having chocolate flake scattered on the top of this cake. D. made a deep, rich ganache instead, and we skipped the pepita garnish because if you didn’t see pumpkin seeds, you’d have no idea that pumpkin was the flavor of the cake! Though too soft for T. – she’d like to try the recipe again with the right kind of pumpkin, with eggs, and with a different balance of hazelnut flour to AP flour, just to test some hypotheses – the cake was a hit with the guests over lunch on the weekend, and the remainder was quickly snarfed up by workmates. The ganache contrasted amazingly well with the bland sweetness of the pumpkin. This was a “ten minute cake,” it was literally gone before Rainer even got to taste any! Oh, well. Good excuse to make it again.

Anyone weary of the traditional uses of pumpkin during the holidays might swap out carrots (and raisins) in a traditional carrot cake recipe, and enjoy the results!

German Pumpkin Cake 2

Baking Like the Babes: Russian Chrysanthemum Bread

When you bake bread every week, or every-other, you lose the ability to really… blog anything interesting about it. Oh, yes, this week the dough had a GREAT gluten! This week we used a little more White Whole Wheat, and a pumpernickel instead of a blended rye…. Yeah, we know we have the ability to gabble on endlessly about that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, we love you too much to expose you to our sheer nerdishness. I mean, we’re the people who peruse the King Arthur Flour catalogue over breakfast! So, we bake – a great deal – and it’s usually wholemeal bread which we use for absolutely everything – toast to sandwiches. Sometimes we’re inspired to branch out by seeing images of some wonderful thing, and that was the case this time. Blogging Baker Babe Lien is rounding up the Bread Baking Babes this month, and while we’re rather short on babe-ishness around here this week, we happily played along with this gorgeous looking bread.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 6

Russian Chrysanthemum bread seems like one of those holiday breads that is just perfect for this time of year. The simple dough calls for using strong flour, which is simply a high gluten flour, and the recipe follows. The filling for the original bread Lien (and many others) made is savory, which you know we’ll have to try before winter is over, but you know we mavericks can never simply follow a recipe properly the first time — we made ours of tartly sweet cranberries and clementines with dark chocolate — basically leftovers from the cranberry sauce T. had just made, with shards of dark chocolate thrown in. It is a TASTY filling – not terribly sweet, not too tart, smooth and richly chocolaty. T. thought this looked like a pull-apart bread to us, but a lot of the Baking Babes – and D. – thought it made more sense to actually slice it. This bread is open to a great deal of variation – it’ll be interesting to see where it lands in our whimsy next! And we do look forward to trying it in a springform pan, or with some more flower-y shapes.

500 g strong flour/bread flour (with some extra for dusting the board when you roll out the dough)
7 g dry instant yeast
125 ml milk, lukewarm (1/2 cup)
125 ml kefir or yogurt (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
90 ml olive oil (3 oz.)

We used whole wheat flour and instead of sugar, maple syrup. We also forgot the yogurt and skipped out on the egg in the glaze and in the dough, as several guests this weekend are vegan. We’ll give it another try at some point as written.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 9

When making her bread, Babe Elle wisely rolled her dough all out and used a biscuit cutter to get the perfectly sized rounds. Would this have made our lives much easier? Oh… sure. *cough* Maybe. Probably. However, D rolling the dough out individually suited the graduated sizes of the petals on his mums.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 10
Whole Wheat Maple Bread 11

Overfilling the petals is really the worst thing you can do, with a loose filling – you need just a schmear of filling to show, and just enough so that it won’t squish out when you’ve pinched the dough together… it should stay in place, allegedly. T. started filling with a tablespoon initially, but switched to about a teaspoon full of filling – enough to taste, not to make a meal on (sadly). And the round of dough is simply folded in half and then the folded edges pinched together to make a petal. This would be a great job for small children with clean hands and a need desire to avoid other work and participate in the making of the treat.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 14

We topped our bread with sugar crystals, colored with saffron, just to add a little crunch and color. Though T. really did kind of over-do it on the filling, the dough turned out to be very excited about proofing, which made the whole thing a bit more forgiving than it could have been. The tender, toothsome dough baked up looking golden-brown and delicious and was really well received by eaters of all ages this past weekend.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 16
Whole Wheat Maple Bread 18

It’s too easy to be busy lately, and the holiday throws its own craziness into the mix of the daily things we have to do. We’d lately forgotten the fun of baking with others, so we’re grateful for the Babes for being the first to try this easy – yet complex – frilly bread. Can’t wait to try it again!

Taste & See: Miyoko’s & Coracao Confections

Skyway Drive 308

In our continuing efforts to explore the world of artisan vegan cheese with T’s mother, we threw another “wine” and “cheese” (for every time you read that word, substitute “cultured nut product” or something) party to sample some of Miyoko’s autumn offerings – but this time added the raw cacao offerings of Coracao Confections to the mix. The Wee Elf let us know that he was disappointed that we hadn’t simply invited him over to have more Sharp Farmhouse cheese, and his little brother continued to not really taste much, but no matter – this time the Littles were along to make snarky remarks (can you really call the 15-26 group Littles anymore? Yes? Forever? Right-oh, then) and The Aunt came to take teensy, tiny tastes of this or that — and then enjoy more than expected.

That’s the fun of these little tastings – we are all surprised – usually pleasantly – by our responses. Nobody (except maybe T’s Mom) goes into these tastings expecting to love the food – we have chips and salsa on standby, at all times – yet we don’t need them, which is nice. This time our taster’s responses ranged from the pleasantly surprised, to the “Hm, that might be okay in a dish” to the, “Oh, dear Lord, no,” end of the spectrum. What one person views as a hardline NO, another person views as an opportunity to take all of the plate home with them – which wasn’t a surprise. In addition to the chips was homemade pico de gallo, kimchi and pickled veggies and as always, a lot of laughter and rude commentary.

Skyway Drive 309

We started with the scariest cheese in the bunch – the one covered in charcoally-powdered-ash, because why not go all the way out there? The Mt. Vesuvius was slightly firm, with a dense smoothness that clung to the knife. The …smeary black ash was finely powdered and stuck fast, not coming off on anything but fingers and knives. It was quickly ascertained to be tasteless, but still made for some very worried, unhappy faces as it was passed around the table. The Elf demurred quietly. The Aunt reminded everyone that charcoal was a time-honored remedy for a sick stomach, so with tentative expressions, tasters went for the first bite… and said, “Huh.”

Second comment: “Oh, hey, that’s really good!” Third comment, tied with action, “Pass it back, would you?” And then the tasters tried to bogart that whole plate for themselves, even before Elf could finally have a taste and put in his bid for trying to keep the plate. Typical, really.

Skyway Drive 310

Our second cheese was one we knew would be rich and unique. Truffles are kind of a big deal amongst foodies, and though not everyone in the tasting group were fungus-fiends, we figured that we needed to at least try the stuff and thereby hold up the standard for dedicated California foodies, or they’d come and take our license or something. We opened up the French Style Winter Truffle wheel with expectation of a complicated and sophisticated flavor. I mean, we had no choice. The description uses the word “umami.” As in, An elegant, woodsy, and earthy wheel marbled with truffle-scented mushrooms. Explodes with deep umami flavors in a luxurious creamy base. We were going to come away from this cheese having had An Experience.

… Of course, being us, the experience was, “Huh. That tastes like dirt.” “No, it doesn’t, it tastes like earth – it’s earthy.” “Well, that’s what mushrooms taste like.” “Dirt?” “No, I said EARTH.”

And the Laurel and Hardy convention rolled along from there.

This isn’t a bad cheese. It’s creamy, spreads well, is studded with little mushroom-y pieces — but the prerequisite here is that you must really like mushrooms to feel like this is your cheese. Our group is… slightly indifferent to mushrooms, unless they’re on pizza (the Philistines). Conclusion: Melted into a bowl of buttery pasta (dairy-free butter, of course), this cheese would be amazing… just not so much for us on seedy or rye crackers, fruit, cucumbers, or any of the other things we had to pair it with. Maybe an especially sour sourdough could redeem it? It has a real richness and creaminess that needs… something more. We just don’t know, not having elegant enough palettes for that umami! Not disappointed, though. Onward!

09-Herbs_2015Master

You’ll notice that the Country-Style Herbes de Provence picture comes from the Miyoko’s Kitchen website… as unfortunately, our photographer got busy with the pickled cauliflower and some ashy cheese and crackers and forgot to take a picture… *sigh* It is so hard to get good help these days. Anyway. The herby name is evocative, as the cheese wheel is indeed smothered in gray-green herbes de Provence – which include thyme, lavender, and rosemary, but sadly, no purple flowers on ours. The herbs give off their scent as soon as the knife cuts through the product. The cheese is quite firm – enough so that you really can slice it instead of spread it – but we found we liked it better a little softer. This was a taster positive, though not the favorite the Mt. Vesuvius was – it confused some of the less sophisticated palettes of the younger set, and for others, the lavender taste was interfered with by its sweetish smell, making the cheese sweet, but others appreciated the texture and flavors. Softened, the herb-y schmear on crackers was mild and nutty.

Skyway Drive 311

We next moved on to the Double Cream Sundried Tomato Garlic. We knew this one would be well-received, because the creamy, mild and buttery flavor the cultured cashews had in the Double Cream chives are so like Boursin, and could only be improved by pairing with other flavors. The Sundried Tomato Garlic didn’t disappoint. Creamy and tangy, the garlic just a hint and the tomato not too acidic, it reminded us of a familiar and well-loved dish… smeared across a piping hot baguette, this would be a lovely dairy-free pizza type of thing. So, so zesty, creamy, and tasty! For fun, we tested an additional cheese at the same time – but it was a Fresh Buffalo-Style Mozzarella. The cheese, unlike the other wheels, wrapped in waxed paper, came in a cup, where it was packed in brine to keep it fresh. It’s not a particularly pretty cheese, looking much like dairy buffalo mozzarella, except more of a beige-y ball, not stark white.

To taste the cultured nut “mozza,” T. made simple open-faced pizza breads with a plain tomato sauce and medallions of this cheese, which managed to both melt and brown, though not stretch. Surprisingly, the smallest Wee liked the mozzarella best … or, perhaps we should say, he simply chomped happily on all the pizza breads he could reach and asked for more, apparently not noticing any difference between dairy mozzarella and Miyoko’s Buffalo-Style. The six year old palette… is surprisingly robust at times. Or indifferent. Anyway. Our conclusion on the mozzarella is that it is a workable substitute for pizza, and we’ll have to make an additional tasting to see if its mild, nutty flavor holds up to basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and pear tomatoes – which is how one also eats buffalo mozzarella.

We veered from our cheese tasting to try Coracao Confections. These chocolates are coconut sugar sweetened, easily found in the Bay Area and ordered simply from the company – big pluses for our non-California readers – and contain 81% cocoa, so they’ve got that deep, dark, good stuff that’s healthy. All of the organic, raw, dairy free, gluten free, soy free, low-glycemic, heart-healthy stuff aside, at the end of the day, truffles are made wth sugar. Of course they’d go over well with the tasters, right? …Kind of. We sampled Raspberry Fudge which got a thumbs up. Rose Truffle which got a confused, “Okay, that tastes like flowers” thumbs up – and it did, the light and lovely rose came through clearly – this was followed by an enthusiastic two thumbs up for Tangerine Bee Pollen, though tasters were again confused and dubious about including pollen in anything they ate, and wondered if the local pollen was supposed to help them combat Bay Area allergies (probably, but one would have to eat a lot more truffles than just one or two to … oh, wait, that’s not a bad idea). Surprised by the Berkley Bar, tasters found this one a good second place, and agreed that it indeed was very much like a Snickers, with raw almonds instead of peanuts. We finished with Peppermint Patties, which contained fresh mint and chlorophyll for a bright and impressive green filling – and…the coconut “bacon” truffle.

Skyway Drive 312

(We can see our friend M. now, giving us a distressed and disbelieving look, with horrified head-shaking, mourning, “Vegan bacon!? Now, that is just wrong. Wrong.” Yeah, well, we live in a world that puts together chocolate and KALE “granola” – of course called “kalenola” – you have to learn to roll with the punches with the California vegan foodies, all right?) In this limited edition truffle, they took flaked coconut and coconut sugar, and then add Hickory Smoke, and Applewood Smoked Salt and added it to the top in a crunchy, slightly salty topping… The smoky, crunchy, and a little sweet adds… something very distressing to some people. Surprisingly, this one got the “Dear Lord, NO!” from the lifetime veggies and vegans in the crowd – our omnivores thought it was actually okay to pretty tasty. So, does it really taste like bacon? No one in this house can say for sure, but coconut “bacon” has been a staple at Coracao for months, and has appeared in various guises – and it sells out, over and over, so people are eating it. …Just not these people, apparently. (FINE, Mark, you win.)

Especially those of us who took that one nibble too many, hit a wall, and made a lot of sad faces while everyone else ate. Poor Elf. It’s very hard to be eight.

We had so much fun doing this that we’re going to do it again. Next time, we’re hoping to grab some other cultured nut products we’re seeing get good reviews – Kite Hill’s artisinal almond milk fresh cheeses are showing up at Nob Hill, Vtopia is a brand coming to our area, and CHAO slices by Field Roast (the tomato cayenne is supposed to be amazing) are already in groceries like Safeway. We expect to encounter both the revolting and the revealing – and it’s all in the name of sharing something meaningful to some of our family (Hi, Mom!) and enjoying an entertaining meal. Cheers!

Heat, Chemistry & CO2

Vacaville 159

Does it make a difference that it’s a dry heat? Yeah, but not much.

“You’ll have missed the best of summer by the time you go home,” a Highlands shopkeeper said mournfully, as we ducked into her shop to get out of the rain. Och, not a chance, missus.

Skillet Cornbread 3

Welcome to August in California in a drought year, where there’s plenty of summer to go around, in these parts (and it’s usually 10-12 degrees warmer in Vacaville, where D. works and where this picture was taken). We’ve now been thoroughly acclimated back to summer in Cali, and have been home for two tiny heat… spikes – can’t exactly call them waves when they only last two days – where the temps hover near 100°F. Today is the second time we’ve had to turn on the air conditioning and have contemplated setting up our camping cots in the basement office to catch some cool while we sleep. It’s rare that the bay breeze doesn’t catch us — but when that preternatural stillness hits, we know it’s going to be a rotten, hot day. Fortunately, we really don’t get those too often, as close to the water as we are, but we do have a few hard-and-fast hot weather rules:

#1 – make small, quick salad-based meals and stock up on juice bars; no one really feels like eating,

#2 – Turn on the AC before it gets hot (T. has the most trouble with this) and,

#3 – Don’t even so much as boil water indoors (except in the electric kettle) when the temps hit 93°.

Skyway Drive 299

Outdoor gear comes in handy at home this time of year. From the camping cots to the camp stove, in really hot weather, we use it all. A two-ring gas burner with a propane tank attached is great for grilling and baking — we blackened tomatoes – from our own garden! – and peppers to make a piquant and spicy pico de gallo, which is really tasty. We also made cast iron skillet cornbread with our lidded Lodge iron skillet. The lid helped it bake evenly and stay moist, as did the frozen corn we added. Using less than three tablespoons of almond flour in this corntastic dish created an amazing flavor – we’ll definitely do this quick-and-dirty dinner again. (Throw hot dogs and chunks of cheese, onions and a bit of fresh or frozen corn into your batter, and it’s a meal-in-a-pan. It’s a cross between corn dogs and casserole. Just add sliced tomatoes and cukes.)

Around Glasgow 655

The one fly in the ointment is the curious trio of raccoon who have dug up the strawberry bed entirely (!!) and are quite interested in the camp stove and all of our outdoor doings – but fortunately opposable thumbs in this case don’t mean that they can cook.

Because cooking and eating aren’t that interesting just now, we’ve gone into new experiments. We had the MOST amazing ginger beer in Scotland, put out by a company called Luscombe in Devon, England. It’s made in a village called Buckfastleigh.

Aside: Yes, let’s do take a moment and consider that name. Buckfastleigh. Ah, yes – this particular village in Devon also is home to BUCKFAST ABBEY, notorious makers of the hideously destructive delinquent Glaswegian crazy-fuel, BUCKFAST TONIC WINE, aka “Wreck the Hoose Juice.” Aye right, keep it classy, Glasgow. (Actually, that’s one of those names that was always in the paper – we never heard Actual People call it that.

Yeah, so it’s THAT Buckfastleigh. Just blows the mind that two such notable drinks come from the same region…)

ANYWAY.

Notable to foodies seeking an aggressively comparable non-alcoholic drink in pubs, Luscombe’s Hot Ginger Beer burns all the way down, yet soothes the stomach. Not too sweet, with a crisp bite of lemon to sharpen the gingery glow, it is a perfectly lovely thing to drink to warm you up – or cool you down. They make a Cool Ginger Beer as well, but we hadn’t the patience for that nonsense. Ginger is supposed to bite. Sadly, not at all willing to pay $65 to ship a twelve-bottle case to our house (!), we decided to put our intellect into finding out what’s in the stuff, and recreating it ourselves. Because, why not? Ginger beer is straight forward. It’s only ginger root, sugar, and water, right?

Actual ingredients include spring water, organic raw cane sugar, organic root ginger 3%, organic Sicilian lemon juice 3%, brewers yeast and CO2. Those are the simple ingredients, and we’re pretty sure the CO2 also occurs naturally when the juice is bottled, as it is a byproduct of fermentation anyway. Ginger beer is a relatively old recipe from the times when water wasn’t always the best option to drink, and people drank small beer or ales. Ginger beer is actually very slightly alcoholic — you can’t really make it without naturally occurring alcohols cropping up. That’s an immutable fact of making a fermented beverage – and yes, the good ginger beer and root beer, too, is fermented and filled with those good-for-you lacto-bacteria, just like kimchee or soy sauce. The trick is to allow for naturally occurring alcohols, but not intoxicating alcohols, so it has to be watched and smelled and stirred daily.

Ginger Beer 1.2

We began by processing fresh ginger root. In this weather, any fresh fruit or veg goes round pretty easily, so we found that chopping it up – skin and all – and freezing it assured that we’d have it as needed, and it thaws quickly and easily with no change in body.

Ginger Beer 1.1

Next, we worked on creating a “ginger bug,” which is a starter brew for fizzy fermented soda. It’s simply ginger, sugar, and water and three days in a crock to grow the necessary bacteria. Ginger beer from American brands like “Q,” readily available British brands like “Fever Tree” and gingery sodas from the Virgin Islands are based on a brew like this. Some people worry about adding sugar to this — they don’t want sugary sodas like they get at the store – but the sugar is for the yeast and bacteria, not you! It will be mostly eaten by those little critters, leaving you with just enough, if you do it right. (Of course, we didn’t entirely follow any *cough* recipe – we’re still fiddling, but this is a guideline.)

Rootbeer 1.1

Originally, root beer was made out of …um, roots and molasses. We compromised on a variety of recipes and chose one we liked. In these containers are sarsaparilla root, ginger root, licorice root, a cinnamon stick, and juniper berries; wild cherry bark, hops flowers, a 1/2 c. of “ginger bug;” wintergreen leaf, birch bark, and dandelion root. This is the basics from an 1840 recipe for root beer. Hops are bitter, and they’re what’s in beer to make it bitter, so T. was fairly skeptical about their inclusion… and since we had no brewer’s yeast, we used fresh yeast from the bakery. This… may have been a mistake. Next time we plan to include sassafras root (we accidentally ordered sassafras leaves, which are great for including in gumbo, but not so much in here) and molasses, and a kefir starter, which hopefully doesn’t smell quite so …raw.

The fermented soda experiment is ongoing, but a few things have been learned. First, OPEN ALL BOTTLES GENTLY and IN THE SINK. We had a root beer tsunami the other day, and it wasn’t pretty. The amount of CO2 collecting under the the lid of a bottle can have fatal force – open away from you, just like you would shaken soda, or champagne. Second, lemon juice is brewed soda’s friend – it adds a lot to the blurry medicinal flavors of roots in the root beer, and helps to sort of …cut the raw, yeasty smell. Thirdly, there is a hair-thin line between healthy fermentation and hooch — on hot days, things may go TERRIBLY wrong, very quickly (this hasn’t happened to us yet, but we’ve been warned all over the place about exploding bottles and out-of-control fermentation. We are not making booze! Promise, Mom.) Finally, we’ve learned that though we are willing and eager, making homemade root beer is going to be harder than we thought – the flavor we’re chasing is elusive, and the smell is off-putting to everyone, even veteran booze-drinkers (D took some to work for his coworkers to taste. Once they got past the smell, they all said it was good; T and Niecelet Flea said a definite thumbs down). We’ve concluded that Americans don’t really drink “root beer” so much as they drink sarsaparilla – the flavor of ours was nothing like root beer, except the one time we got root beer from a health-food store and were horrified. We’ll be aiming more for sarsaparilla next time.

The ginger beer is definitely easier for first-timers. We rather like the ginger beer – though T says it’s nowhere near as strong and lemon-y as it should be, and since she drank various brands everywhere everyone else had a diet Coke, she ought to know. T suggests dried ginger root will be added in copious amounts next time, along with fresh, to the ginger bug, and and lots more lemon juice in continuing incarnations. Stay tuned!

Hope you’re finding ways to keep busy and creative in the hot weather – or the wet weather – or wherever you find yourself. Savor every day of summertime – too hot, or not. Life doesn’t resume when it cools down or heats up, or is some ephemeral right temperature – it’s right now, so enjoy.

Taste & See: Miyoko’s Creamery

Did you get the memo?

The words “artisan” and “vegan” go together. Well, they’re being seen together a lot more lately, anyway. Honestly, it was only a matter of time before vegans figured out the cheese thing, since it’s the excuse most of us use to stay not-vegan. We love our cheese. For those who desire to switch to a solely plant-based diet, the siren-call of cheese can be really, seriously, awfully HARD to resist, so vegans have for a long time been motivated. Of course, there have been, and there remain, myriad vile concoctions as a result of that motivation, horrific things which masquerade as cheese. Probably everyone has their story of struggling through plastic-y sandwich additions, crunchily textured things made out of rice milk (WHY?) and bright orange “chezie” sauce on pasta (sometimes this can be really good – T’s baby sister makes an amazing mac-and-cheez. But, not everyone has the knack.), but this isn’t a story about someone’s putting out a substandard product. This is a story of a product cheeses which was welcomed by vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike. It was kind of shocking.

Miyoko Schinner is a longtime Bay Area vegan who wrote several cookbooks, including one in 2012, detailing her at-home success in making cultured vegan nut products. But, though many people bought the book, they were too timid to try cooking with unusual ingredients such as carrageenan powder, xanthan gum, tapioca flour, and agar powder. Not only that, but people had to come to grips with stuff like rejuvelac (what?) and the idea that culturing anything – dairy or non-dairy – is a process that is open to the vagaries of chance, as well as time-consuming. Laziness won out again, and after a lot of whining from friends and family, Miyoko opened Miyoko’s Creamery… which now ships to all fifty states, has a contract with the Whole Foods Markets and is still expanding as we speak.

Vegan Cheese Tasting 6

We sat down for our family “Wine & Cheese” Tasting last week with a chilled bottle of Draper Valley Riesling grape juice – from an absolutely fabulous company which produces only unsulphured bottled grape juices, which means everyone can partake – and four of Miyoko’s Creamery cheeses (and, we’re just going to say “cheeses,” because “cultured nut products” makes us want to belt someone, and we refuse to type that umpteen million times). The cheeses are plastic-wrapped and then boxed for freshness, and before tasting, T. set them out for about forty-five minutes, to make sure we lost none of the flavors due to cold. (We don’t advise more than ten minutes in the summertime, however! The Double Cream got very soft.) There are ten “root” varieties of cheese, and then there are seasonal variations. We chose the Aged English Farmhouse cheese, the High Sierra Rustic Alpine, the Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf, and the Classic Double-Cream Chive. In the interest of taking good first impressions and comparing and contrasting, we ate the cheese on thin crispy, crackers containing no spices, passing the plate along the table and comparing flavor and texture, smell and noting anything else which caught our attention.

We began with the High Sierra Rustic Alpine cheese, which had a thick, creamy texture that was almost not spreadable – a paté consistency. It could be described as “semi-hard.” In color, it is a light tan all the way through. Its ingredients list Organic Cashews, Filtered Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Chickpea Miso (Organic Chickpeas, Organic Rice Koji, Sea Salt, Water, Koji Spores), Sea Salt, Nutritional Yeast, and Cultures. We notice that nowhere on the list is listed liquid smoke, but… there’s… something slightly – very slightly – smoky about this cheese. This comes, perhaps, from the combination of nutritional yeast and miso? Anyway, the smooth and mild spread left a nicely savory finish on the tongue, and was …tasty. It wasn’t T’s favorite, but T’s mother thought it was wonderful and went back to it again and again. (Of course, this became her pattern with ALL of the cheeses throughout the night. But, more on that later.)

Vegan Cheese Tasting 5

Interestingly, the ingredient list for the second cheese we tried is identical to the first, and yet, could two cheeses be any more diverse? The Classic Double Cream Chive was very nearly T’s favorite, with its creamy, mild, buttery flavor and the lovely hint of chive. In color, it is a creamy white, with bits of green which are the chives. This was enthusiastically received, and T. imagined it on baked potatoes, immediately. And then on toast. And then on peppered water crackers… Despite the miso and nutritional yeast still present in this cheese, the overwhelming flavor is mildly herb-y and buttery — like a nice Gournay cheese like Boursin. T’s mother returned to this cheese as well, as it’s very creamy and moreish, as our Scots friends would say. Another plus? It a cheese that is definitely easy to get kids to eat. Our youngest taster, Elf, is eight, and informed us that it is indeed a very good cheese, and he’s quite the omnivore and picky as all heck. An excellent result!

Not surprisingly, because T. loved it so much, D. just… shrugged. “It’s fine, it’s tasty enough,” is no ringing endorsement, so we will just ignore him, and move on. AHEM.

Vegan Cheese Tasting 4

The next cheese T. wasn’t too sure about at all – because she’s not that fond of fruit in cheese, and not always at all fond of certain varietals of figs. Fortunately, she needn’t have worried; the ingredient list remained the same with this cheese, which meant the fig leaf – wine-cured – was only on the outside, and had nothing to do with the product INSIDE. The manufacturer has made a note that the shelf-life of this particular cheese is sixty days. As none of our other cheeses had this note, we figured it was there because of the leaves, which introduces another biological element into something cultured and aged.

While T. wasn’t sure she’d be wild about this cheese, this one D. managed to hoard and keep right in front of him on the table. Its sharpness and decidedly tangy, savory flavor may have been the reason for this. In color, this product is creamy white and the leaf only discolors the surface a very little bit. The manufacturer advises that this cheese grows more sharp as it ages. Of all the cheeses we tried T. liked this one least, and D. liked this one best. Elf was indifferent and T’s mother tried it once or twice, and remained enthused.

Vegan Cheese Tasting 1

(The photographer must apologize for not unwrapping a couple of the cheeses; social occasions with a lot of giggling and genial insults and cheese-snatching across the table are not the best times to remember to properly photograph the food on one’s plate. Look! You can just admire the wonderfully sweet tea roses or the quirky cross-stitch pattern on the plates! There. All better.)

The final cheese was a second choice; we’d intended to sample the Smoked English Sharp Farmhouse, but it is apparently wildly popular and goes quickly out of stock from week to week. We settled instead for the Aged English Sharp Farmhouse, and were nonetheless thrilled. It is a firm, light tan cheese with a tangy flavor reminiscent of cheddar, and would have paired nicely with a Draper Valley verjus, the tangy, tart vintner’s brew made of unripened grapes. We all immediately imagined this melted – and it does melt – into a pasta sauce. This was Elf’s hands-down …tied favorite. Flea’s hands-down main favorite, T’s mother’s favorite, just because they all were, D’s second favorite, and T’s favorite. While we tried to remind ourselves that we were just TASTING, this cheese barely made it to be wrapped up and sent out the door to T’s parent’s house. Given time, it would have been completely snarfed down. The ingredients for this farmhouse were the same as with all of the other cheeses, yet this astonishingly tasted nothing like them. At all.

…which is really not so surprising. ALL cheeses in the dairy section are, at their root, made of … milk, salt, and enzymes, added with time. What gives cheese its flavor differentiation? The culturing process. The time. Owing to that simplicity, you might having a niggling interest in buying that cookbook and seeing how hard it would be to produce your own cultured nut products (!) at home. Or, if you’re not as time-rich as that, you could pop over to the website and see what else you’ve missed. The Country Style Herbes de Provence? The Double Cream Sundried Tomato & Garlic? The French Winter Truffle, or the Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash?

We bought these cheeses to share a social experience with vegans who don’t often get to have wine & cheese parties (okay, not gonna lie; people who don’t drink also don’t have wine and cheese parties, but we’ll ignore that), and came away sort of gobsmacked and perfectly willing to buy and consume these products our own non-vegan selves. There are still plenty of vegan “pitfalls” out there in terms of faux cheese products — but this carefully handcrafted, artisan “cultured nut product?” Is not one of them.

{feats of fermentation*}

If you could change your life by what you ate… you would, wouldn’t you?”

“You Are What You Eat!” was dinned into our wee brains throughout childhood (right along with “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything,” but you see how well that went), and we all figured it was true, as far as that went, though most of us imagined our classmates as gigantic chickens or something. (Or, maybe that was only T. Whatever.) But recently the National Institute of Health put out a really surprising report on how what we eat can literally change our mental state. The piece is titled, “Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model,” and the tl;DR quote you need is:

“A recent study in humans has shown that consumption of a fermented milk product containing a combination of probiotics (Bifidobacterium animalis, Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Lactococcus lactis) can modulate brain activity (Tillisch et al., 2013). After four weeks of consuming the fermented milk product, there was a reduction in brain activity in a network of areas, including sensory, prefrontal, and limbic regions, while processing negative emotional faces. Importantly, a control group that ingested a non-fermented milk product showed no such changes in brain activity, suggesting that the probiotics in the fermented milk were responsible for the modulation in brain activity. This study demonstrates that fermented foods containing probiotics can alter how the human brain processes negative social stimuli.”

Fermented Cabbage 4

If you’re vegan, you may be shrugging and thinking, “Well, that’s all very nice for the sanity of the omnivores, but…” Nope, think again: probiotics exist in fermented foods of all kinds, even those which have no milk products. An easy one to enjoy? Kimchi. By fermenting vegetables in a salty broth to suppress the whole decay factor of vegetables sitting in water for weeks at a time, lactic acid bacteria takes over the process, creating the magical healthy probiotics that we need.

T’s family had many Korean friends, and growing up, T. ate some really amazing kimchi. T. has a vague memory of her mother attempting to make her own kimchi in a Mason jar… and the Mason jar exploding… so when D. wanted to make kimchi, T. was… not really on board. So, she stalled. This worked for a few weeks until D. found a fermentation crock, and then the whole kimchi thing was on like Donkey Kong, and there was nothing she could do about it. She wasn’t sure what to put in it – some traditional recipes call for shrimp – ugh, imagine that decomposed – and there’s the traditional red pepper powder called gochugaru — kimchi aficionados say it can’t be replaced with just plain cayenne pepper. Nevertheless D. had a new toy, and in went the Baechu (napa) cabbage, red peppers, onions, scallions, garlic, chopped carrots, and crushed roasted seaweed, to add a bit of meaty umami flavoring – the “rocks” to hold down the veg, the water and the salt.

Fermented Cabbage 2

Adding salt to our fermented cabbage this time was …tricky. The first recipe we used added it by weight, and we made the mistake of looking for a “vegetarian-friendly” recipe instead of looking for a KOREAN recipe. Rookie mistake, we are covered in shame. There’s a method to making this properly, and the first is to brine the cabbage – and then rinse it. This is necessary to kill off nasties, but rinsing also helps keep the level of salt down. We had to back up and do this step after we had a delicious but ultimately waaaay tooo salty dish. The second trick is to mix your seasonings into a paste and add it to the cabbage only after it’s all together. That way you can get delicious ginger and garlic and peppery goodness in every bite.

We admit to impatience, and only fermented our cabbgae for three days. It was tasty, but it wasn’t “right,” and we’re going back to the drawing board. Next time we’re looking forward to adding radishes — maybe from our own wee garden! — to the mix, doing the soaking properly, and experimenting with a freer hand with the gochugaru. There are many kinds of kimchi and we have many tasty days ahead of us. Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of sauerkraut, this is a fermented cabbage that kicks it up a notch. (And if you’re not a fan of sauerkraut, rejoice; this is nothing like it, really.)

But, we can sense that some of you remain unconvinced. It’s not enough that the probiotics in fermented foods can increase your mental well-being. You’ve seen real kimchi. It’s red and weird and pungent and even snuggled up next to perfectly steamed rice, you can’t imagine putting such foreignness into your mouth. Uh-huh. Well, consider this:

Fermented Cabbage 3

The 2003 outbreak of SARS in Asia virtually left Korea untouched – possibly because kimchi has been shown to boost immunity. Korean chickens infected with the H5N1 (avian flu) virus recovered after eating food containing the same probiotics found in kimchi. The Journal of Nutrition in 2001 reported that kimchi produces beneficial short chain fatty acids which are reported to inhibit the development of invasive colon cancers. Research reported in 2008 revealed kimchi probiotics fighting ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori bacteria. The Journal of Medicinal Foods abstract adds, “Health functionality of kimchi, based upon our research and that of other, includes anticancer, antiobesity, anticonstipation, colorectal health promotion, probiotic properties, cholesterol reduction, fibrolytic effect, antioxidative and antiaging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health.”

From various studies, kimchi aids in digestion, lowers total cholesterol, is an antioxident, reduces inflamation in skin breakouts, lowers BMI, beefs up the immune system, reduces oxidative stress in blood cells, inhibits the growth of cancer cells, increases glucose tolerance, especially when eaten with a low fat food; inhibits gastric ulcers, combats nutrient depletion, builds stamina and helps prevent yeast infections. Are we at least a little more on-board with this? Hope so. Tune in ’til the next Feat of Fermentation.


*Yes, yes, we know we’re bizarre. Normal people are talking about their home microbrewing when they discuss fermentation. Haven’t you figured out by now that we’re never Those People? Get with the program, folks; even when we’re swanning around in the sky we don’t do “normal” here.