Monday, April 30, 2012

Simple Sauerkraut

As I carried on down my fermenting path I naturally came upon sauerkraut.  Sauerkraut is one Western fermented food that is quite familiar - I assume because it's popular to serve it on a hot dog.  Unfortunately the sauerkraut that is served on hot dogs is generally industrially produced, which means pasteurized, which means the death of happy bacteria.

Before we get into the making of sauerkrat, a little background.  The word comes from the German language and means sour cabbage, pretty accurate.  Souring cabbage is a great way to prolong its shelf-life.  I read that Captain James Cook brought 'kraut on his ocean voyages and that the vitamin c content kept his men healthy and their gums intact.  In my high school textbooks there was talk of limes preventing scurvy but sauerkraut makes more sense in terms of accessibility and storage.  The bottom line is that sauerkraut is pretty fantastic.

Interestingly enough, despite the fact that the modern term sauerkraut comes from Germany, soured cabbage actually came from China.  Those familiar with kimchi (that is for another post) would recognize it as a spicy, delicious form of soured cabbage.  Supposedly Mr. Genghis Khan brought it over with his pillaging hordes.  I am happy he did because sauerkraut is delicious and makes cabbage infinitely more digestible, speaking of which, onto the recipe.


1. Start with a beautiful cabbage.  If you look on the Wild Fermentation site it calls for an awful lot of cabbage.  I started with half a small head so if it went to hell in a moldy hand basket I would only lose a little bit of yummy veggie.  Shred the cabbage finely.

2. The next step is to pack the cabbage into a ceramic or clay pot with salt.  Simply put a little cabbage in, put a little salt in, put a little cabbage in, put a little salt in, until your pot is full.  The salt helps to release moisture from the sauerkraut and also creates a nice pH for the good bacteria to grow. 

3. Once your pot is packed with salted cabbage, take a plate or a bowl that fits into your pot and use it to press down on the cabbage so that it is firmly packed into the container.  This helps to further release moisture.  Then, with the plate or bowl in the crock, place some sort of weight on top and leave your cabbage for 24 hours.  Some recipes call for airtight conditions.  I put a double layer of tea towel (clearly not airtight) on my cabbage and then put my french press on top to act as a weight.

4. After 24 hours, check your cabbage.  Mine was still bone dry for some reason!  I guess I managed to pick a piece of cabbage that was devoid of moisture.  In this situation, take a cup of water and add a teaspoon of salt to it and use this liquid to fill up your container until the water rises above the cabbage.  Again, weigh it down and leave it.  The cabbage will be fermenting away on its own but you do want to check the water level every couple days to make sure the cabbage is submerged in brine (salty water). 

5.  Voila!  A simple homemade sauerkraut!  I left mine to ferment for two weeks, though you can start to eat it earlier.  I was housesitting so my sauerkraut got a little extra time to itself and I have to admit that it was (and is) delicious.  There was a slight hint of carbonation, and I don't know if that is a good or bad sign, but I ate it three days ago and I am still alive to tell the tale so it clearly didn't kill me.  In the future I am going to use an airtight container.

The next big question.  How did I enjoy my first sauerkraut meal?  On a hot dog of course!  I bought a spicy italian sausage from Save-On-Meats and a white hot dog bun from cobs (there is no need to mess around with whole wheat for this purely indulgent meal).  I gently sauteed the sausage and then placed generous mounds of sauerkraut on top with sriacha sauce on the bottom.  Simply delectable!

  • My version of sauerkraut is as simple as it comes - salt, water, cabbage.  I plan to experiment with different spice combinations, think fennel seed, caraway, dill.
  • I also want to try adding different veggies, beets perhaps, broccoli stalks, brussel sprouts.  Check back to see my new experiments! 

Sauerkraut recipe
About 'Kraut
"sauerkraut, n.". OED Online. March 2012. Oxford University Press. 15 April 2012 <>.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Grandmummy with a Pick Axe

I went over to my cousin's new place the other day to help get her yard in order.  I arrived and walked around back to where the family was gathered.  There was my Grandmummy with a giant shovel turning over the soil in the veggie-garden-to-be, while my two cousins-in-law (men in their 30's) were sanding a bannister.  Hilarious!  I don't know how she got assigned shoveling duty but there it was.  So I jumped in with her and then insisted we snap a pic.  Please note that I am 5'8" so she is rather on the small side.

We shovel for several hours and then she decides that the size of the rocks really requires a pick axe.  A pick axe!  I inquired as to whether or not she is a miner and then decide that I need a video clip of her using her pick axe.

I would also like to mention that the thing was heavy.  She lost it momentarily and sent me scurrying around the yard to find it for her and when I found it I did think to myself: This pick axe is freakin' heavy.  I would get tired using it!

As Mother's Day approaches, I just want to say: Grandmummy, you rock!  You give all of the women in our family an ambitious example of life in the later years and I only hope I can live up to it and be an equally ambitious example for my grandkids.

Perhaps I will take up chain sawing in my 90's?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Homemade mascarpone: Heart stoppingly rich

As I tested my homemade mascarpone I felt my heart seize up.  That's probably because the fat percentage of mascarpone is in the 70%+ range of milk fat.  Yeah it's basically milk fat so that means it's really good, but probably not something I will eat or make on a regular basis.  Having said that, it's really easy to make; I managed to make it successfully my first time around, which is rare.

Mascarpone is an Italian soft, curd cheese and is made in a similar manner as ricotta cheese.  It is from the Lombardy region in Northern Italy and is used in savory and sweet Italian dishes.  


2 cups whipping cream
1 tablespoon of lemon juice


1. Pour the whipping cream into the top of a double boiler with a thermometer and turn the heat on.  The first step is to heat the cream up to 190 degrees fahrenheit.  My guess is that this denatures the milk proteins much like it does when making yoghurt

2. Once your cream reaches this temperature, add the lemon juice and stir.  You are cooking it until it becomes thick and coats the back of the your spoon.  I don't think I cooked mine long enough so if you take the picture below as an example, cook until it is thicker than mine.

3. Once it is cooked, take it off the heat and allow it to cool for 20 minutes.  As it was cooling, I lined my sieve with 8! layers of cheesecloth and placed it over a bowl.  I tried with four as in the original recipe but the cream poured right through.  Once I doubled up the cheesecloth, it worked better.  This is what makes me think my cream wasn't thick enough.

4. After the cream is in the cheesecloth, throw everything into the fridge overnight.  When you wake up you will have a bowl of deliciously, luscious mascarpone.

The mascarpone tastes like slightly sour, thickened whipping cream - makes sense because that's all it is.  I ate mine on a bagel with strawberry-ginger jam and what a way to start my day!  It is really ultra, crazy decadent and is probably not a good food for those on calorie-restricted diets.  For the odd special occasion though, go to town!

I had a girlfriend over for dinner over the Easter long weekend and we ate pistachio ice cream topped with mascarpone and my rosewater & cubeb pepper dulce de leche with chopped pistachios on top.  It was really out of this world.


Original recipe
About mascarpone
History of mascarpone

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Braised Pork Shoulder

I think knowing how to make a tasty braised pork shoulder is a really good kitchen skill.  Why?  It's easy, it's cheap, it's tasty, it's versatile, and it's quick (kinda).  In the context of a casual dinner party, braised pork shoulder is one of those crowd-pleasing dishes.  A really good pulled pork is wonderful in the winter when it's cold outside and fantastic as part of a summer time barbecue.

I winged this recipe and if I do say so myself it turned out delicious - the leftover braising liquid especially.


1. Buy a pork shoulder.  I bought a small one, about two pounds.  Mix up your dry rub and massage it into your shoulder.  You can let it sit to absorb the spices if you want.  I decided not to simply because I wanted to use the pork for dinner. 

Dry Rub

1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon mustard powder

2. Then get a pan nice and hot to sear the pork shoulder.  Sear it on all sides and then pop it back into the pan with all of the ingredients below.  Add some extra water or apple juice if there isn't enough liquid in the pan. 

Braising Liquid

1 chopped apple
1 chopped jalapeno
1 star anise
2 tablespoons of ginger roughly chopped
1 chopped onion
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup malt vinegar

3. Cover the whole mess with tin foil and pop it into an oven at 250 degrees fahrenheit.  My shoulder was small so it only took about four hours (the prep time is quick though, all you need to do while it cooks is go take a nap).  You want to pull it out of the oven when the internal temperature gets to 190 degrees or higher*.  Let it rest for half an hour.

4. While it is resting, pour the contents of the roasting pan through a sieve.  Try to remove some of the fat if you would like - I'll admit to just leaving mine as is.  Once the pork has rested (allowing the juice to distribute through the meat) it is ready for pulling.  If cooked properly the pork should shred easily using either your hands or two forks.

Eat pulled pork on its own, on a bun or in a taco with the pan sauce drizzled on top.  So yummy...


Cooking Time
Barbeque Thoughts

*I read that 210 is best for pulled pork.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rose and Cubeb Pepper Dulce de Leche

"Pleasure is often spoiled by describing it" is how I feel about dulce de leche.  I can't remember what inspired me to make it for the first time - I think a potluck for the Design Nerds.  I fussed and peered for several hours as the milk got darker and darker and thicker and thicker.  Finally, I took my first taste and it made my spine tingle.  Just thinking about it now makes my spine tingle.  The taste is not something to describe - just make some.

Dulce de leche means "candy of milk" and is similar to a caramel sauce, but infinitely better.


1 litre of whole milk
3/4 cup of white sugar
1/4 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Optional - rosewater (1-2 teaspoons) and cubeb pepper (7-8 peppers)

Dulce de leche is wonderful without any extra ingredients but lately I've been experimenting.

As I've mentioned in previous posts I have a background in aromatherapy so that influences the spices I choose.  A few months ago I became interested in cubeb pepper.  I like to make a spice blend and simmer it over the holidays to keep my home smelling nice and cubeb pepper was one of the spices from this previous Christmas.  It smells of clove and nutmeg and I've heard it's an aphrodisiac...

Rosewater is a common ingredient in middle eastern desserts.  I was first introduced to it when I ate baklava as a child.  A friend from my childhood was Iraqi and her mother had owned a bakery in Iraq.  For some reason her children didn't enjoy her cooking, but I adored it!  Those lovely little phyllo wrapped pastries scented with honey and rosewater.  So delicious.  Rose is an ultra-feminine and floral scent so a little goes a long way (it's also an aphrodisiac so this recipe should be quite potent).

Rosewater should pair beautifully with cubeb pepper in my dulce de leche.


1. Pour milk, white sugar, and vanilla bean (scrape the inside out and put that in as well) as well as any other flavouring agents into a saucepan and turn the heat on.

2. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the baking soda.


3. Cook the mixture down until there is about a cup left and it is a dark gold color. 

  • Pour the dulce de leche through a strainer to make it silky smooth.
  • I've never tried making dulce de leche with low fat or no-fat milk, but it might be okay.
  • I don't use as much sugar as Alton's recipe calls for and I find my version very sweet.  I've heard the traditional recipe is ultra sweet and that's just not to my taste so I decided to break with tradition.
  • Some people use a can of condensed milk in a pressure cooker.  This will be ultra sweet and the process kinda scares me.  I'd love to hear others experiences.
Dulce de leche is amazing!  Oh!  There goes my spine again...


Recipe from Alton Brown
Cubeb Peppers - one of my favorite companies
Quote by Stendahl

Monday, April 9, 2012

Five Spice Duck Pancetta

It was time to play around with charcuterie again.  I have been contemplating making more sausage because I'm out, but I'm in the middle of training for the Spartan Sprint so having pound upon pound of delicious sausage tempting me off my strict diet didn't seem logical.  Ditto for three pounds of pork pancetta.

An innocent duck breast?  That's an entirely different story.  It's small.  And duck fat?  Is that ever a bad thing?  I'm sure it will just make me run faster.  So here is the story of my duck pancetta.

I started with a lone breast from Brome Lake Ducks.  In the future I want to find a locally raised duck but this was what my butcher had so I went with it.  This is the Peking duck variety so it suits my spice combination nicely.  Rather than just use salt, I decided to add a five-spice blend to the mix.

My spice blend is based on a Chinese five-spice adapted to my taste buds.  My background is in aromatherapy and perfuming so I always have that in the back of my mind when balancing my spice blends. 

Five-spice blend

2 ml pink peppercorn - milder than black pepper and a beautiful color!
2 ml cubeb pepper - mix between black pepper and clove, lends a beautiful richness
3 ml fennel seed - gives a gentle anise flavour
2 cloves - I find clove can quickly overwhelm so I just used two buds
2 ml cinnamon - probably cassia rather than cinnamon (that is what commercially sold "cinnamon" tends to be because cassia is cheaper to produce and tastes very similar)

I always toast my spices before grinding.  It refreshes them I've heard so these got a quick toast in a dry skillet and then into my mortar and pestle they went! 

I wish you could smell the toasted spices being ground.  Because of my background in aromatherapy I am very scent-driven, scent-delighted and I almost swooned when the perfume of the spices first drifted up to my nose.

The duck breast was rinsed, plucked (just a few little feather ends remained) and scored.  The kosher salt (use a good amount) was mixed with about a teaspoon of the spice mixture and packed into a ceramic bowl with the breast.  I felt quite strongly about using ceramic versus a metal or plastic container.  It just seemed more respectful to the duck.

And then into the fridge it went and I waited.

According to Michael Ruhlman, the breast only needs 24 hours of salt curing before being hung up to dry.  Once the curing period was over, I rubbed the remaining spice mixture into the breast gently, and left it in the fridge to dry out for a week.

I don't know if the difference between the breasts is obvious.  It dried out quite a bit, which I think is a good thing.  In the recipe it was hung up to dry in a cool spot but I don't have a cool spot so I decided to keep it in the fridge like I did with the pig pancetta.  That probably led to it drying out more than it should have but I've decided to use the entire breast in a braised dish so it should turn out fine.  I can't wait to try my first attempt at 5-spice duck pancetta.

  • I will probably try a different (or no) spice mixture next time
  • This really opens up the possibilities of what I can use to make pancetta...
  • Speaking of pancetta, I just looked it up and the word originates from "paunch" or "pancia" in Italian, so I wonder if a cut of meat should be from the belly in order to be called pancetta?   

"pancetta, n.". OED Online. March 2012. Oxford University Press. 9 April 2012 <>.
Duck Pancetta
Chinese Five Spice

Friday, April 6, 2012

Loafing Around: Nothing but monster...

Well here it goes.  I'm making my first loaf of 100% whole wheat flour using only my homemade wild yeast.  What is going to happen?  I hope it rises and tastes good.  Some might say I have low expectations.  I think that's a good thing early in a relationship and technically tonight is like a first date.

I followed the same recipe from my first loaf but I used more starter, more heat, and less flour.  I think I probably should have been a bit more scientific about the whole mess but I wasn't, that's life.

Here are my changes:
  • Using a good amount of starter - I probably used a little bit more than a cup
  • Fermenting the culture on a heating pad - I have an old heating pad that I use when I make yoghurt.  I put the culture on that on a towel and unplugged it periodically so it didn't get too hot.
  • Using less whole wheat flour - Normally the recipe calls for 3.25 cups of flour, I used about 2.75 cups.  The dough is a little wetter so when you knead it make sure your movements are fast (quite fast to be honest or you will become a sticky, doughy mess).
And here's what happened...

It's looking good!  Nice and bubbly.  I read that the thicker the dough the more the bubbles so I'm going to add less water next time so it gets even more bubbly!

A nice well of bubbly culture and flour...

It looks fine right?  Well, don't be fooled.  This is where things started to get a wee bit off course.  I know those little holes in the pan look quite innocent.  You might even think that they are a good thing, making the crust nice and crispy.  Contrary to popular opinion, they act like little black holes, sucking the dough down, and basically baking the bread into the pan.  Yes, into the pan.  I had to cut my lovely loaf off the sheet.  Hmph!

Rescued from the sheet pan!  It turned a lovely color this time, which it was doing on its own but I also brushed a little cream on top close to the end of baking to help it along. 

My assessment:  This loaf was a bit on the heavy side.  I'm not going to go so far as to say it could be used as a door stop, but others might.  In retrospect I think the dough was too wet so I am going to adjust accordingly next time.  Also, note to self: Use parchment paper with wet dough!  No more dough black holes!

Also, stay on the lookout for my sourdough donuts.  Anyone who knows me knows that it took me about a day after making my first loaf to google "sourdough donuts" and I found what looks like a pretty yummy recipe.  I'm thinking about injecting some doughnut holes with black pepper rose dulce de leche and then rolling the little beauties in vanilla sugar.  Sounds pretty dangerous for my waist line...