Home » kitchen

Tag: kitchen

Homemade Summer Drinks

Sometime in April, we ran out of the refillable carbon cartridges for making bubbly water at home. “That’s it,” I declared to my slightly dismayed partner and daughter. “From now on, we’ll drink plain filtered water — or we’ll make our own bubbles.”

(Make our own bubbles. Doesn’t that just sum up this pandemic year perfectly?)

Since the summer heat landed on us, our cravings for refreshing, cool, preferably sweet beverages have grown accordingly. So here’s what we’ve been making to quench our thirst on hot afternoons (besides just lots and lots of iced water with lemon and fresh mint):

 

Ginger beer

Find the instructions in this earlier post

 

Probiotic drinks: Kombucha and water kefir

These two drinks are probiotic beverages, both prepared with a live culture, or SCOBY (a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts). In the case of kombucha, the scoby looks like an opaque sponge, in water kefir it’s small water kefir “grains.” As probiotics, they are excellent for supporting gut health, something that seems like a good idea now as ever.

Kombucha is probably the more familiar of the two. I’ve made kombucha off and on for years, using the recipe in Sandor Katz’ Wild Fermentation. It is so easy. Since I periodically fall off the kombucha-making habit, I don’t always have a scoby lying around to start a new culture, but thankfully I have cool friends who share theirs with me.

Water kefir, or tibicos, is another traditional fermented drink. I added it to my repertoire just this summer after Milkwood Permaculture got me intrigued. A healthy sweet soda to hook kids onto probiotics? Yes, please! I found the water kefir grains here and have enjoyed integrating the kefir-making into the daily rhythm of our kitchen.  The microbes in water kefir include Lactobacillus, which you’ve probably heard of. I love knowing that I can grow these good guys in a glass jar right on my kitchen counter.

I can tell you that water kefir now ranks #1 in our family’s list of drinks right now. The subtle base flavor is unlike anything I’ve ever had before, but you can also flavor water kefir in all kinds of creative ways with fruit, herbs, etc. The family favorites right now seem to be blackberry kefir and lemon mint kefir. If you do the second ferment and “feed” the kefir with some more honey and then bottle it for another day, as Milkwood instructs, you’ll end up with a bubbly beverage.

 

Watermelon slushy

Here’s a tip: this drink is extra delicious if you grow the watermelon yourself. Why? Because you’ll be checking on the melon daily for ripeness, knocking on it, waiting, looking for signs that it’s ready to harvest… while the anticipation keeps growing. By the time you cut off the melon and sink a kitchen knife to it, you’ll be so excited to taste it that you’ll dig in with both hands, watermelon juice dripping off your chin, devouring the sweetness.

And if there’s any left from that initial binge… I make a watermelon slushy, a hot summer afternoon hit if there ever was one.

Watermelon slushy

  • freshly cut watermelon, cut into chunks, seeds mostly removed, and frozen for 1-2 hours
  • a few sprigs of fresh mint
  • fresh lemon juice, to taste
  • maple syrup, to taste

Put chilled watermelon cubes in a food processor and mix until the large chunks have disappeared. Add mint, lemon juice, and syrup and pulse again until well blended. Serve immediately.

Homemade Ginger Beer

DIY bubbly drinks!

Who doesn’t like the refreshing, popping sensation of fizzy drinks? We don’t drink a lot of soda in our house, but we do have a fondness… and a sometimes-addiction… to ginger ale.

Homemade ginger beer is a really easy DIY version — and you can adjust that ginger-y bite to your liking if you experiment a bit. It’s a non-alcoholic, effervescent delight that kids love too.

All you need is ginger, sugar, lemon, water — and time (2-3 weeks). My go-to resource with all fermentation processes is Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, and you can find this recipe there.

Start by making the “ginger bug”: 2 teaspoons grated ginger and 2 teaspoons sugar mixed in 1 cup of water. Leave it in a warm spot and “feed” the mix with the same amount of ginger and sugar once a day until the mixture starts bubbling (within a week). Then you’re ready to make the ginger beer: you add another 2-6 inches of grated ginger (less for milder ginger flavor, more for a real punch) and 1.5 cups of sugar to 2 quarts of water, bring to a boil for 15 minutes, and cool. Then add the ginger bug and the juice of 2 lemons and mix.

Strain and bottle in sealable bottles. I admit that this is one of my favorite parts: getting to line up nice shiny bottles and put caps on them with a bottle capper.

Keep in mind some basic precautions about bottling carbonated drinks. With carbonation, pressure does build up in the bottles, so if you are using glass bottles you’ll want to be safe and minimize the possibility of a bottle exploding. I follow the advice of Sandor Katz’ The Art of Fermentation: brewing the ginger beer inside a box in the closet, keeping track of the timing, and opening a “test” bottle every few days after 2 weeks, and I’ve never had issues.

AAANNDDD with homemade fizzy drinks, you’re not supporting the big soft drink corporations that are sucking dry communities’ groundwater around the world and are responsible for a bulk of the world’s plastic pollution. Just sayin’.

Local Meal Ideas

“Eat Local” is a slogan many of us are ready to stand behind. Local food is cool on a hot planet: we know that freshly harvested food is more nutritious, eating local supports local farmers and growers, and there’s no fossil fuels wasted on insanely long shipping distances.

Yet, in practice, many of us still feel quite dependent on imported grocery store foods. Several decades of supermarket shopping culture have narrowed down most people’s cooking repertoire to meals that involve opening cans and cardboard boxes.

So what kinds of meals can you whip up with all-local ingredients? Without those pre-packaged and processed items?

Now that I’ve been eating a local-foods-only diet for almost a month, I have some delicious answers for you. In fact, I put together a list of some of our best meals during this locavore month — with links to recipes!

Here’s the simplest way to put it: A local diet = a whole foods diet. Be prepared to spend a little bit more time in the kitchen, but also to be rewarded by real food, real nutrition, and flavors you just can’t pull out of a box.

In an earlier post, I talked about how I prepared for my “locavore month” and researched local food producers. That gave me a sense of the “pantry” I could draw on for the next month. Figuring out how to combine those ingredients into satisfying, nourishing meals is a creative process and one of my favorite parts, honestly.

 

 

10 ALL-LOCAL Meal Ideas

These meal ideas work if you live in a temperate zone in late summer/early fall, at the peak of the harvest season.

1. Butternut squash lasagna with homemade ricotta (recipe in this book)

2. Neighborhood tart with local mushrooms (I used shiitake) and goat cheese

3. Vegetarian Southern brunch with cheesy grits, scrambled eggs, greens, and biscuits with local goat cheese spread

4. Our favorite carrot tomato soup with homemade bread…

5. Homemade pasta (my daughter and I have a pretty good pasta-rolling routine down at this point). Recipe in this book.

6. Pumpkin ravioli with sage walnut pumpkin butter

7. Blueberry acorn pancakes with Acornucopia acorn flour

8. Eggs in a Nest (from Animal Vegetable Miracle)

This is the easiest local food meal to source ingredients for: just eggs and veggies that are available much of the year: onion, carrot, Swiss chard, and tomato (dried tomatoes is actually what the recipe calls for). Minimal spices, minimal hassle, satisfying flavors. Enjoy with a local grain, or even mashed potatoes.

9. Local Grain/Sweet potato/potato/squash + local protein + greens/salad/sauerkraut

…and what’s for dessert?

10. Basil blackberry apple crumble, again from Animal Vegetable Miracle

 

As you can see, there’s no deprivation going on here. Eating local means eating well — all it takes is some advance planning and a willingness to experiment.

If you try out any of these recipes, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear what you’re cooking!

Quick & Easy Ricotta Cheese

Blessed are the Cheesemakers! I don’t know which motivates me more to make cheese: the promise of the satisfying flavors at the end, or the process itself. The sweet smell of milk being heated and the way the cheese curds get transformed before my eyes makes me squeal inwardly with glee. Shiny white blobs of curd draining in my colander make me feel like an alchemist that has just figured out the formula for making gold.

A basic repertoire of easy cheeses also means that, with a source of local milk, I can always keep cheeses on my plate during this local food month.

Ricotta, I think, should be everyone’s first cheese you try to make. It’s an easy and a relatively quick affair: the preparation takes no more than 30 minutes and an additional 1-3 hours of draining, depending on how firm you like your ricotta. All you need is milk (I always use whole milk), lemon juice or vinegar, a dairy thermometer, strainer or colander, and cheesecloth.

 

Ricotta Cheese

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • ¼-½ cup lemon juice (can be freshly squeezed)
  • Instead of lemon juice, you can also use ¼ cup vinegar, 1 tsp citric acid dissolved in ¼ cup water, or buttermilk (1 quart per 1 gallon of milk)

Heat milk to 175 F degrees. Add lemon juice and stir. The cheese will curdle within 5 minutes. Pour into a strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth, tie the corners of the cloth together securely, and hang the cheese to drain until it is the consistency you like. I use hooks attach to the door handles of kitchen cupboard doors, but feel free to improvise. When the cheese is ready, take it out of the cheesecloth. At this point, you can flavor it as you wish. I make an herb spread by mixing in some minced fresh herbs, minced garlic, and salt to taste.

Wondering what to do with the whey that collects as the cheese drains? You can use it, for example, instead of milk in pancakes or baking. I also give it to the chickens for extra calcium.

Wild greens in the spring kitchen

Long before those first, tentative leaves of lettuce in the garden are ready for harvesting, nature’s spring greens have already gotten a head start. No need to wait to start eating from the land!

Here are some of my favorite wild-foraged spring greens and what I like to do with them in the kitchen.

Wild greens pesto

Don’t get me wrong: I do think basil is the food of the gods. But honestly, what really makes pesto pesto is the blend of garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan; any green with a little bit of a kick to it goes beautifully with these ingredients. If it’s too early even for arugula, I’ll go for the wild greens growing abundantly everywhere: chickweed, wild onion, and deadnettle. This version I made had locally foraged black walnuts in place of pine nuts, making it a truly place-based food.

To make: Collect at least a colander-full of edible wild greens: chickweed, wild onion, deadnettle is a good combo. Process 2 plump garlic cloves with 1/2 tsp salt and 3 tbsp of pine nuts or walnuts with a food processor or by hand into a fine paste, then start adding the greens by the handful and process until smooth. Add 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Finish with 1/2 cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Sochan and dandelion in smoothies

My 4-year-old is a picky eater. To up her intake of greens, I regularly trick her by adding them to smoothies and juices. Thankfully, some of the most potent greens, nutritionally speaking, grow in our backyard; and in the spring, the tender, young leaves of dandelions and sochan make it into our smoothies.

Not so sure about dandelion? Then try sochan! This mild green, also known as cutleaf coneflower, is a traditional food plant of the Cherokee and one of the easiest and most satisfying to add to any dish that calls for greens. Sochan grows wild along riverbanks and wet woodlands, but is also easy to grow in the garden. Sochan has many health benefits, but it’s in the mineral department that it excels over better-known superstar vegetables such as kale: it has more manganese, zinc, phosphorous and copper than kale (in case of manganese, it has five times the amount!)

To make: blend bananas, frozen blueberries, almond milk, and sochan in a blender or with an immersion blender. I sometimes add almond butter, collagen powder, or ground maca root for an extra energy boost.

Spruce Tip Fizz

You know those light green, tender new shoots at the end of spruce tree branches in the spring?

Yes, those.

I collect them in the spring to make a most decadent spruce tip syrup. We mix it with sparkling water for a favorite springtime drink, but it could also be used to glaze a roast chicken etc. The flavor and aroma is just like stepping into a fresh, lush evergreen forest.

To make:

Collect just the light green new tips (only pick from a large, established tree). To make the syrup, use equal amounts spruce tips, water, and sugar (I used 2 cups of each). First bring the water and sugar to boil, mixing so that the sugar dissolves. Then add the chopped spruce tips, turn off heat, cover the pot, and let cool, ideally until the next day. Strain through a fine strainer or cheese cloth. The finished syrup will keep in the fridge for 3 months.