Suddenly Sauer: Preserving Food and Tradition in a Modern World

Hamentashen. Purim Potluck Comes Home
February 27, 2010, 8:22 pm
Filed under: food

It began because Amit wanted to make vegan hamentashen.  These traditional Jewish Purim treats, modeled after the Purim story villain Hamen’s three cornered hat, have honestly never been that exciting to me.  Nonetheless, I always acquiesce when desert is involved, and I was more than happy to help her realize her kitchen dreams.

I found a recipe from Elana’s Pantry, a blog that always provides when I’m looking for alternative baking recipes, and especially so for Jewish treats.  Sure enough, her recipe for vegan hamentashen was simple as pie (actually, easier than pie) and Amit set about making the batter immediately.

In the food processor we blended:

2 cups pastry flour
2 cups bread flour
4 Tbs honey
2Tbs vanilla
4Tbs water
4Tbs walnut oil

Once it was sticky enough to hold together, she stuck it in the freezer to chill.  A half hour later, she tried to roll out the dough but it was too crumbly.  Instead she ended up rolling individual balls, pressing them into disks, spooning raspberry jam into their centers, and folding and pressing the sides together to make a triangle.  I added some more water to the dough as we shaped it, which helped make the process easier.

This is what the dough looked like before we added water… it was too crumbly to work with- note the cast aside rolling pin in the background

The finished product, however, was beautiful.  And the dough was good and crunchy, the perfect compliment to the jelly filling!

When dinner was over, Amit treated us all to a retelling of the Purim story, complete with audience participation, loud booing whenever Hamen’s name was spoken (we didn’t have gregers (spelling?) but we tried anyway) and all manner of side stories, reminiscences, and feminist re-interpretations.  All in all, it was a successful first attempt at celebrating Purim since the bygone days of congregational Purim carnivals.  No free goldfish, but lots of good company.  Beginning to create a vibrant Jewish community, with the help and participation of Jews and non-Jews alike, has been deeply satisfying.  Thanks to everyone (Amit especially) who continues to partake in this revitalization.  I can only hope it continues.


Celery and Grapefruit Soda
February 27, 2010, 7:56 pm
Filed under: beverages

First: the picture

Next: the story

I decided to make celery soda for two reasons.  1) we talk about celery production a fair amount in my vegetable production class (Michigan has these soils called “muck soils” that hold nutrients and moisture really well, making them ideal for celery production) and it reminded me of how intriguing the salty bitter taste of celery can be, and 2) My friend offered me a taste of his Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda and it got me thinking that a cultured version would be good, maybe even better… (but I’m not going to take sides just yet).  So I set out for Eastern Market one bright Saturday and bought myself a bunch of celery (organic but not local… making celery soda is a lot more relevant in the summertime, but I couldn’t wait!) and two juicy sugar sweet grapefruits.

I juiced the celery and the grapefruit (peeled), which added up to 4 cups of juice.  Then I added 1/2 cup cane sugar and 2 cups of water, and heated it on the stove until the sugar was dissolved.  After allowing it to return to room temperature, I added 1/2 cup of whey and poured the mixture into two bottles–one, the functioning grolsch style glass bottle I’ve been using, the second, a smaller grolsch bottle that is ceramic instead of glass.

I let both bottles ferment for 9 days in a dark cabinet, then I refrigerated them.  When I finally popped the cap on the large bottle last night, I was shocked and delighted to watch detachedly as the brew explode up and out of the bottle, champagne like, drenching my cloths, my ceiling, my floor, and even some of my house guests.  The flavor was pretty uniformly deemed delicious, but interestingly, the two different bottles had very different flavors.  The uber carbonated glass bottle was much more acidic, more earthy (strongly celery), with less sweetness and less grapefruit flavor, while the ceramic jug had more of the flavor I was expecting the get out of the brew: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

I now need to figure out why two bottles poured from a uniform mix, underwent different fermentation processes.  any suggestions/thoughts are welcome.  In the mean time, I’ll keep experimenting.  And for the record… celery grapefruit soda definitely made a splash.

Poached Eggs
February 22, 2010, 9:01 pm
Filed under: food, Uncategorized

This post has nothing to do with fermentation.

2 days ago, I had only ever poached an egg using this fancy silicone invention called a “poach pod,” which I got from R.Hirt Jr. last year.  They’re green and flexible and nicely designed… but honestly, they made me feel like I was cheating (I was) and the eggs they produced were just a little bit too perfect.  none of that charming pillowy whiteness that is a real poached egg.

But for the Corktown Community Brunch Angela was envisioning poached eggs nestled atop a bed of curried 5 potatoes (redskins, fingerlings, Yukon golds, Japanese sweets and yam sweets), and 3 dozen attempts later, that’s exactly what she got.

Myself and a team of two other highly skilled food scientists undertook this mission with zeal, and three hours later we were rewarded with the knowledge that poaching eggs is A) difficult B) more difficult in a cast iron skillet and C)not for the faint of heart.  oh yeah… there is also a lot of vinegar involved.

in a nutshell, here is what we learned:

Eggs poach best in water just under boiling (around 202 degrees).

Water should be still, but it’s good to give it a stir and then allow it to settle back down, just to be sure the heat is well distributed.

Add a lot of vinegar and a good amount of salt to your water before you add the eggs.  don’t be shy with the vinegar, it makes a world of difference and the flavor washes off when you place the freshly poached eggs in cold water to stop the cooking process when they’re done.

Crack your eggs into little cups or shallow dishes first, and ever so gently lower them into the water.  putting them in along the sides of the skillet can help them keep their form.

Those are all the tips I’m going to include, both because I honestly wasn’t the one who actually excelled at poaching, and because my primary motivation for posting this was to make a MUCH SHORTER and LESS COMPLICATED recipe for egg poaching than all the verbose internet info we had to work with.  The downside is that I’m probably missing a lot of important detail.  oh well, you can’t win every battle:)


and try serving your poached eggs with some sauerkraut.  I promise the combination won’t disappoint.

HB 5837
February 19, 2010, 9:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I got this letter in my inbox today.  whoop whoop!

(If this passes, I could legally sell pickled food made in my kitchen… as long as fermented food makes it onto the list of “non-potentially hazardous foods.”  I e-mailed all the state reps I could get my hands on.  keeping my fingers crossed.

HB 5837 was introduced yesterday by State Representative Pam Byrnes (D-Chelsea). The bill would amend the Food Law of 2000 to define a “cottage food operation” and allowable products of such an operation, and make those operations exempt from the licensing and inspection provisions of the Food Law. The exemption does not include an exemption from the labeling, adulteration, and other standards in law.

In addition to existing labeling and disclosure requirements imposed, the bill would require a cottage food operation to place on the label of any food it produces or packages a statement that substantially complies with the following:

Sale of allowable foods by a cottage food operation would be limited to homes, farm markets, or roadside stands; municipal farmers markets; county fairs; and town celebrations, festivals, and events.

Gross sales of eligible products by a cottage food operation could not exceed $15,000 annually. The bill would allow the Dept. of Agriculture to request written documentation to verify the gross sales figure.

The bill defines “cottage food operation” as “a person who produces or packages non-potentially hazardous food in a kitchen of that person’s primary domestic residence.”

The bill defines “non-potentially hazardous food” as “a food that is not potentially hazardous food as that term is defined in the Food Code, which includes, but is not limited to, baked goods, james, jellies, candy, snack food, cereal, granola, dry mixes, vinegar, and dried herbs. Non-potentially hazardous food does not include home-canned low acid or acidified vegetables, home-canned salsa, or home-canned food; food service items; ready-to-eat meals, mean, sandwiches, cheese, or custard pies; garlic in oil; food that requires temperature control for safety; and bottle water, home24 produced ice products, and other beverages and products.”

Cultured Root Beer Floats
February 14, 2010, 2:46 pm
Filed under: beverages, Uncategorized

Oh yes, you read that right… the cultured root beer (made with local sassafras from Holtz Farms, vanilla, molasses, and whey) was a rip-roaring success. I’ve been testing the same batch for the past three weeks, and I couldn’t figure out why one bottle had carbonated and the other had not–even though I actually had the same problem with my lavender soda. I finally got smart and poured the un-carbonated batch into the bottle that had carbonated, and viola, two successful batches of root beer later, I have problem solved myself to the point where one thing is now clear– I need to buy myself some reliable bottles.

But the flavor was delicious, more tangy than folks are used to, no doubt, but also deep and full bodied. like good beer, only it’s soda!

How to Make Cultured Root Beer

Brew a simple syrup: sassafras root, 1 1/2 cups sucanat (or organic cane sugar), full vanilla bean, and 1/4 cup molasses in 2 quarts of water

Allow the brew to cool to room temperature, add another 2 quarts of water and 3/4 cup of whey

***the whey is the starter for this fermentation, it contains the lacto-bacilli, which will convert the sugars (sucanat in this case) into lactic acid and CO2. This is how we get carbonation.

Pour the mixture into sealable bottles: bottles must be made of thick glass, and lids should be grolsch style, to reduce risk of explosions.

Allow to ferment in a warm place (around 70 degrees) for about 1.5-2 weeks. normally the ferment takes less time, but I think the bacteria takes more time to digest sucanat (a whole cane sugar with it’s molasses content still intact) than it take to digest refined sugar.

When you can shake the bottle and see LOTS of bubble activity, its a good time to stick it in the refrigerator, and pop it open when you’re ready for a taste. I would caution you about two things: 1) don’t forget about your fermenting soda, it could build TOO MUCH pressure and become dangerous. 2) don’t bring your soda to a party, promising root beer, only to then open it and discover it’s flat as anything and a little bit sour (the sourness will happen no matter what, but without the bubbles, it’ll be a hard sell for people who are expecting soda). Try to test the batch before you bring it around promising root beer. I’ve made this mistake a few too many times by now, always a disappointment.

For the float party, I made a batch of plain vanilla ice cream, my first time ever using fresh dairy. I always opt for non-dairy or fermented dairy bases because my body is much happier when I feed it cultured dairy. I’ve been making nut, rice, yogurt, etc. based ice creams for about a year now, and I think they’re spectacular and far from a compromise; the non-dairy cream base lends complexity to the ice cream, and the flavors you can create are adventuresome to say the least. BUT for a cultured root beer float party, something a bit more classic was in order. So I made a vanilla custard ice cream base (full fat organic raw milk from Hampshire Farms, vanilla, and egg yolks) and I sweetened it with agave. not only because I can’t leave my health food instincts behind completely, even when making heavy cream ice cream, but also because agave is a natural sweetener with the same syrupy quality of corn syrup, which makes for a wonderfully smooth ice cream.

And when it was time to crank out the Ice Cream, we procured our ice by breaking chunks off of the frozen 5 gallon bucket ice lanterns on the porch, with a hammer and chisel, which I observed was much more contemporaneous with the circa 1925 hand crank ice cream maker than buying a bag of ice from the corner store would have been anyhow.

When the cranking was complete (about 25 minutes) I scooped the creamy goodness into cups, crossed my fingers as I popped the top on my experiment for the 3rd time, and was greeted by the incredibly satisfying pop of a carbonated bottle of soda releasing its pressure. Yum. Cultured Root Beer over ice cream and some satisfied company… I love this city.

fresh turmeric root
February 4, 2010, 1:03 am
Filed under: food, Uncategorized

if you’ve never had it, it’s time to try it.

mind you, this deviates a fair bit from my usual agenda of local, and seasonal, but this one extra special ingredient has me captivated.

I spent a day at the “Cultured Pickle Shop” in Berkeley, CA in December, and I tasted a little slice of heaven, in the form of my new favorite pickle: mustard greens with turmeric root, fennel, and garlic. The pungent tumeric and mustard greens were pleasantly offset by the sweetness of the fennel seeds, and the whole bundle was sour, delicious, and a beautiful tinted orange.

I’ve started a small batch of my own, which I prepared like sauerkraut– salted 1 bunch of mustard greens with 1 Tbs salt until they wilted and began to exude juices, then added shaved turmeric root (about 1 inch) chopped garlic (2 cloves) and fennel seeds (1tsp). The whole thing is packed in a jar with a water seal and is sitting in the cupboard next to my refrigerator. So far, it’s too salty and the flavors taste immature. I’m letting it continue to ferment, hoping that if I let the sauerness develop the leaves won’t become too chewy to enjoy.

In the meantime, I’m using the rest of my turmeric root tossed with olive oil, onions, garlic, and some cubed Japanese sweet potatoes, sprinkled with apple cider vinegar. The Japanese sweet potatoes, procured from the Holtz brother’s market stall at Eastern Market, are the sweetest creamiest, just like the farmer’s themselves promised. This is my second time making this dish. It is definitely a keeper.

Polish Village Cafe with the DDC
February 2, 2010, 3:14 am
Filed under: food, soups, Uncategorized

Tonight myself and the DDC (Detroit Dinner Club, a fledgling group of sorts) went to the Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck for dinner. Most of what I ate was potatoes 5 different ways, but it was all delicious. The highlight, however, was the Dill Pickle Soup.

I have every intention of making a batch with some of the pickles I have from this summer. It calls for sour cream… maybe I’ll use creme fraiche?

I also indulged in a plate of sauerkraut. what would an authentic Eastern European meal be without sauerkraut? I feel like I was eating the dinner I should have been raised on.

I’ll post a pickle soup recipe as soon as I actually make it.