Thursday, January 12, 2017

Real Chai Made to Order



It has been dark and cold and rainy here lately.  In other words, it has been perfect. 

And when it is perfectly dark and perfectly cold and perfectly rainy, what's the best thing to do? Make a hot beverage and curl up with a good book.

So I turned to David Tanis, whom I adore, and I made my own chai. Come with me on a journey far, far away, will you? A journey to the exotic land of Eugene, Oregon circa 1997.

I was a 22-year-old graduate student on a vacation to see a dear friend whom I had met while abroad. She was (is!) funny, urbane, and left-coast. She looked like Rachel from Friends. At a time when everyone wanted to look like Rachel from Friends. (Let's face it: we all still  want to look like Rachel from Friends.) She could drink a pint and she could dance well into the early morning. She was game for adventures at Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland, and she dragged my tipsy butt home from bars in Edinburgh. She hiked with me through bogs in Connemara (and we complained the whole way through) and she indulged my unrequited crush on a German exchange student whose name I never knew. She was perfect, and when we returned from our time abroad, she meandered back to Oregon, and I landed in Salt Lake City.  Enter summer road trip to Oregon. 


     

I had never been to Eugene or Portland or Florence or Corvalis. All places she took me in a whirlwind tour. And while I remember playing basketball in the Portland moonlight as we waited for our dinner reservation and hiking up the Columbia River Gorge to see rainforests and waterfalls, I also remember our trip to some unnamed strip mall kiosk, where she said, "I think you'll like this." For, you see, I was an indefatigable tea drinker in Ireland. From morning to night, with or without milk and sugar, I could suck down a cuppa. And she presented to me my very first cup of chai. 

Remember: this was the mid-to-late 90s. The company Oregon Chai had been founded in 1991, but took three years to come up with its flavor profile. By 1997, masala chai could be found at every Northwest neighborhood coffee shop but had only offered its tendrils into the Wasatch Mountain Range market. We may thank (or curse, your choice) Starbucks for the introduction of this fabulous beverage to world-naive young adults. I was one of them. 

And so I ended up at some kiosk with my darling friend and she offered the drink, certain of my affinity for it without questioning. I was Alice in this Northwest wonderland, and she was saying, "Here drink this." And I did. 

And I was ruined.



Nowadays, I am particular about my Masala Chai. Not too sweet. Definitely heavy on the cardamom, please. (In fact, one of my favorite chais can be found at the Goodlife Cafe and Bakery in Mendocino (oh, that heady and floral note of cardamom!)). I prefer my chai hot in a good earthenware mug on a cold and rainy day, but I will take it even iced on a sweltering day if need be.  

But David Tanis taught me a little secret. It's so much better if you make it yourself. This recipe has all the expected flavors--cinnamon, cardamom, cloves. But it's the toasted quality that knocks this little drink well out of the realm of any kiosk, cornerstore, favorite coffee shop, or big chain bakery. This is the way to have chai. This is the made-to-order chai that I have been aching for ever since that fateful 1997 day. And I can make it in my own kitchen. 

And I am deeply indebted to this dear friend of mine. For chai is, indeed, a great pleasure of my life, especially on a perfectly rainy day.







------

Real Chai Made to Order

Adapted From David Tanis' One Good Dish

Yield
2 Servings

Ingredients
½ tsp fennel or anise seeds
4 green cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
½ tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp black tea leaves (Assam or Ceylon)
Sugar, brown sugar, or honey

Instructions
1.  Lightly toast the fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, and bay leaf in a small dry pan over medium-high heat just until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2.  Crush the spices in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Then transfer the spices t a stainless steel saucepan. Add the ginger and pour int he milk. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Add the the leaves. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let steep for at least 5 minutes

3. Strain the chai into warmed cups and sweeten to taste.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Vanilla Citrus Marmalade (Liberally Adapted from Marisa McClellan's Three Citrus Marmalade)



I love a good challenge and the husband loves a good marmalade.  This is a match made in heaven.


Marisa McClellan from Food in Jars has set forth a Mastery Challenge, and I could not resist. Her intention? Get as many people as possible canning and preserving and get them feeling confident about it. And so, for the next year, she set forth this calendar:

  • January – Marmalade
  • February – Salt Preserving
  • March – Jelly
  • April – Quick Pickles
  • May – Cold Pack Preserving
  • June – Jam
  • July – Hot Pack Preserving
  • August – Low Temperature Pasteurization
  • September – Fruit Butter
  • October – Drying and Dehydration OR Pressure Canning
  • November – Fermentation
  • December – Fruit Pastes
Aren't you excited? I know I am.


While I am growing in confidence with fermentation, see here, I still feel like a novice in all other categories. And while I have been trying to up my canning game (see here, here, here, and here), I definitely could use some gentle direction, hand-holding, and from time to time some no-nonsense guidance.

McClellan posted recently a short primer, How to Make Small Batch Marmalade, which I somewhat ignored, and I instead turned to her wonderful book Food in Jars, which has not yet led me astray. She had a recipe for Three Citrus Marmalade, and I had a bowl full of citrus--grapefruit, navel oranges, lemons, clementines--and two vanilla beans burning holes in my pocket. So I dabbled and changed and played, and I came up with Vanilla Citrus Marmalade. 

People. People, are you listening? 

Go make this.



Before I wax on about the end product, let's walk through the (somewhat labor-intensive but totally worth it) steps.

1.)  Zest your citrus and cut it into strips (and squares and shards). Boil these up to make 'em tender and then drain (save the water).
2.)  Supreme your fruit.  This is the most time-consuming part of the process. You need to separate the fruit from the pith and membranes and seeds. I am going to admit, I did this for about half of the fruit. Then I gave up and juiced some of it. Don't tell. But I do recommend doing this while listening to the rain and to Ella Fitzgerald. It's a lovely way to spend a morning. 
3.)  Sterilize jars and lids. 
4.)  Cook and cook and cook and cook the zest with the fruit and juice and vanilla beans. And then cook a while longer. Get it to 220 degrees. This takes forever. But the moment it gets to 220 degrees, there is a noticeable change in texture and the smell turns caramel-y and rich. Don't stop at 215. Don't do it. You'll be tempted and you will not be rewarded. 
5.)  Fill and seal jars.  
6.) Consume. 


Close. But not quite there. Don't give up.

Try to give some away. But really, you're going to consume most of it. We both know it. And there is no judgment there. I have eaten some of mine with a spoon. Sure, McClellan speaks of using it with chicken to make a fast and "healthier" sweet and sour chicken. Sure, you could put it on an English muffin. But really, a spoon is fine.


Oops. Looks like we'll have to eat the one on the left immediately. What a shame.

What a wonderful way to spend a very rainy Sunday. And these little pots of marmalade are so sunshiny and bright. 

I gotta say that I love this marmalade. The vanilla deepens the taste, making it almost like caramel. The almost buttery and warm quality of the vanilla tempers the acidic citrus. With no dominant citrus flavor--I do like the tangerines, though!--this marmalade feels decadent and heady and rich.

Now to make myself give some away.





------

Vanilla Citrus Marmalade

Very Liberally Adapted Three Citrus Marmalade from Marisa McClellan's Food in Jars


Yield
3½ Pint Jars

Ingredients
4 pounds assorted citrus (I used lemons, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit)
5½ cups granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped (seeds reserved)

Instructions
1.  Wash and dry the fruit. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the fruit. Cut the zest strips into a confetti of varying sizes. Combine the zest in a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce temperature to medium high and simmer for 30 minutes, until the zest is tender.

2.  While the zest cooks, cut the white pith away from the fruit and supreme the fruit (separate the fruit from the membranes). Collect the fruit and any juices in a large bowl and set the membranes and any seeds aside.


3.  When all the fruit has been broken down, bundle the reserved pith and seeds into a length of cheesecloth, tying the cloth well so that no seeds can escape.


4.  Drain the now-tender zest, reserving the cooking liquid.


5.  Prepare a boiling water bath and 4 regular-mouth 1-pint jars (see To Sterilize the Jars below). 


6.  In a large stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot, combine zest, citrus fruit, 4 cups of zest cooking liquid, 5½ cups of sugar, 2 vanilla bean pods, vanilla seeds and the cheesecloth bundle.

7.  Bring to a boil and cook vigorously until the mixture reaches 220 degrees (this takes between 30-60 minutes).


8.  When the marmalade reaches 220 degrees and sustains it for one minute, remove the pot from the heat. Stir for about a minute off the heat, to help the zest bits become evenly spread throughout the preserve. Remove the vanilla bean pods.


9.  Fill prepared jars (see To Seal the Jars), wipe rims, apply lids and screw rings. Lower into a prepared boiling water bath and process for five minutes at a gentle boil (do not start counting time until the pot has achieved a boil).


10.  When time is up, remove jars from the pot and let them cool completely. When they are cool to the touch, check the seals by pushing down on the top of the lid. Lack of movement means a good seal.






To Sterilize the Jars:
1.  If you're starting with brand new jars, remove the lids and rings; if you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure there are no chips or cracks.

2.  Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a simmer on the back of the stove.

3.  Using a canning rack, lower the jars into a large pot filled with enough water to cover the jars generously. Bring the water to a boil.

4.  While the water in the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare the marmalade (or whatever product you are making).

5.  When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars).  Set them on a clean towel on the counter.  Remove the lids and set them on the clean towel.



To Seal the Jars:
1.  Carefully fill the jars with the marmalade (or any other product). Leave about ¼-inch headspace (the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar).

2.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper towel.

3.  Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of  your fingers so that they are not overly tight.

4.  Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot and return the water to a boil.

5.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of processing time varies for each recipe; for the marmalade, cook for 10 minutes at a rolling boil.

6.  When the timer goes off, remove the jars from the water. Place them back on the towel-lined counter top, and allow them to cool. The jar lids should "ping" soon after they've been removed from the pot (the pinging is the sound of the vacuum seals forming by sucking the lid down).

7.  After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the bands and check the seals by grasping the edges of the jar and lifting the jar about an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold in place.


8. Store the jars with good seals in a cool, dark place. And jars with bad seals can still be used, just do so within two weeks and with refrigeration.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Classic Frisée Salad (Salade Lyonnaise)




This one is a no brainer. Especially if you have vowed to eat healthy this winter.  (Yes, we're calling this healthy. It's salad. Go away.)

Let's face it, the combination of bacon and eggs is almost always the answer to life's questions. Cobb Salad, Spaghetti Carbonara, and (let's face it) Egg McMuffins. All divine. All bacon and eggs. Coincidence? Nope. But this one, at least, can claim to be a smidgen healthier than all of those. 



But if we follow the narrative that France brings us the best in (or at least the foundation of) the gastronomical world (a narrative espoused by many of my own culinary heroes, including Alice Waters), then we need turn only to Salade Lyonnaise, or a classic frisée salad with poached eggs and salty lardons. I say, let's follow that narrative. 

With its creamy, tangy, smoky, and umami-based flavors, this little salad(e) hits all the right spots. Let's break it down, shall we?

  • Egg--you have to have the perfect poached egg.  And it doesn't have to look perfect to be perfect. It just needs to have a good, runny yolk so it can coat the salad. The warmth of the yolk wilts the frisée just the tiniest bit and you get the extra little jolt of fat. Yes, please.
  • Lardons--It's bacon, my friends. Salty and smoky all rolled up into one. Where can one go wrong with bacon? Nowhere.
  • Croutons--put a little garlic on that bread. It's the only proper way.
  • Frisée (or curly endive)--a member of the chicory family,  frisée boasts a bitterness that can stand up to the assertive dressing and a crunch that can withstand the warm yolk. This is a strong little fellow.
  • Dressing--This is the most important part. The tanginess from the vinegar, the sharpness from the garlic, the unctuousness of the oil, the bite of the mustard. Yes. Yes. This is a way to dress any salad but the only way to dress a Salade Lyonnaise.


In the end, this recipe is blisteringly easy to make although with many a steps. But the hardest part is the poaching of the egg. And, I'll admit, my egg poaching is not enviable yet. I am still working on it. My egg whites go zooming all throughout the water, and I have to gather them back into each other. But once corralled, the eggs still taste as good as a more picturesque one. And the sum of these humble salad parts is most certainly worthy it. Especially if you can commandeer someone to tear up the frisée while you herd an egg white. 

Even if we both know I am kidding myself on the healthy part.








------

Classic Frisée Salad (Salade Lyonnaise)

Adapted From David Tanis' One Good Dish

Yield
4 salads

Ingredients
6 ounces thick-cut bacon sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-wide lardons
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
½ tsp grated garlic
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
4 eggs
4 handfuls frisée
12 thin slices baguette, lighted toasted and rubbed with a garlic clove

Instructions
1. Simmer the bacon in a little water for about 5 minutes in order to cook off a little of the salt. Drain. In a small skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until lightly browned and crisp. Blot on a paper towel.

2.  Whisk together the mustard, vinegar, and garlic in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

3.  Fill a shallow skillet two-thirds full with salted water and bring to a gentle simmer. Crack each egg individually into a small bowl and then carefully slip each one into the water. Poach the eggs for 3-4 minutes, until the whites have set but the yolks are still soft. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. 

4.  Lightly salt the frisée and toss with the vinaigrette, coating it well. Divide the greens among 4 plates, place an egg in the center of each, and add 3 baguette toasts. Scatter the lardons over the salads, add ground black pepper, and serve.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Blueberry Multigrain Pancakes in The Snow Child // Cook Your Books

Here we go... entry #1.

In this  Cook Your Books series, I have chosen 15 books to read in 2017 based on somewhat arbitrarily chosen categories. My theory (bogus it might turn out to be) is that all 15 of these books will somehow connect to food. And I plan to write about that food. This first installment is a book inspired by a fairy tale. 



The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a dark treasure of a book. 

Set in a harsh 1920s Alaska this book tells the story of two forty-something Pennsylvanians (Mabel and Jack) who have chosen to homestead. They are not young pioneers ready to forge their ways in the rough and tumble world of Sarah Palin. Instead, they are world-weary adults who have come to a darkened Alaska Territory for some quiet. 

In a novel that lusciously describes snow, cold, darkness, and silence, Ivey writes a love letter to Alaska, to magic, to possibility. But also to independence, (dare I say) feminism, community, and communion. And I loved it.

And while I somewhat arbitrarily chose this for my first book in my Cook Your Books series, it could not have been more perfect, as food plays a central role in this novel inspired by a fairy tale. (I know you're going to think I planned this, but I really didn't. I, too, was surprised by just how much food there is in this book.)



In the Russian fairy tale "Snegurochka," or "The Snow Maiden" (upon which this book is based), a childless couple creates a snow child, complete with mittens and a hat. Miraculously the child comes to life (à la Frosty, but minus the old silk hat). However, she has some conditions in that old Russian tale, mostly involving the promises we make to those we are indebted. 

For you see, in that original tale, a fox leads the snow girl home to her newly adopted parents after she loses her way in the forest. The old man promises a fat hen as payment despite his own poverty; however, he puts his hunting dog in a sack, hands it off to the fox, and in no time at all the dog devours the fox. The ultimate in betrayals. The snow child, who seemed so wanted and loved and adored, was not worth the chicken to the couple. Yes, the chicken is everything earthly to an impoverished couple, but the fairy tale suggests there needs to be something more than the earthly or the tangible when it comes to paying off debts. Especially when those debts involve those we profess to love.



And so it goes in this book. Mabel, aware of this version of the fairy tale, even makes an offering of a chicken for a fox that trots about with Faina (our novel's snow child). It is the essential recognition that even when something reeks of "dark winter's madness," when someone brings you something precious, you return the favor with your own cherished offering. 

In the end, that's where food comes in here. The food seems to be made again and again as offering. From moose steaks with boiled potatoes (people, we were this close to having to find someone to sell us moose steaks for the blog) to a Thanksgiving turkey, from lynx (!) and dumplings (252) to "fire-grilled salmon, potato salad, and an extravagant white cake with white frosting and candied rose petals" (356) and homemade elderflower wine at a wedding--food is offered to one another with care and precision. There's cranberry relish (149), ptarmigan (31), hot tea and bread in a Dutch oven after showing someone what "home" means to you (249), and cold sandwiches in wax paper on a fishing trip (312). And there is roast black bear and rhubarb pie in summer (271) and cranberry cordials sipped between just two women (253). 

Contrast with that refined food with the bounty found on the land itself: "Eskimo potato root, blueberries, tender spruce tips, grayling, and salmon, grouse and rabbits, which she skinned and cleaned and dried in strips on racks by the shore of the Wolverine River, where the wind kept away the flies. Sometimes she smoldered a green alder fire beneath the racks to lightly smoke the meat" (359). All offering. (And are we ready to move to Alaska yet?)

See what I mean about the abundance of food in this book?



But the food that stuck with me the most was a simple basket of blueberries. When Faina is beginning her tentative steps toward a relationship with Jack and Mabel, she brings a handwoven birch bark and root basket the size of two cupped hands. The basket is "heaped" with blueberries, and Jack picks it up from the doorstep, slowly becoming aware of what this offering means: communion and community with this fantastic child. Mabel worries that the little girl will be too cold in the wilderness, but Jack explains, "I think she's warm. And she must know how to get food. Look at the berries, and that little basket. She knows her way out there, probably better than either of us" (85). She is an independent girl. She does not need to come indoors. But she gives an offering, which is properly accepted.

This moment clarifies the connection with someone who refuses the whole of the book to be separated from her truest self--one that is independent and self -sufficient and clear. Even to the very end of the book. This book is not just about the commitment to one another--and it is about that (from Jack and Mabel to each other and to Faina, but also the commitment that they make to their friends and their friends make to them, and also the commitment that they all make to Alaska, even when brutal Alaska doesn't seem so committed to them). No, this book is also about the commitment you make to yourself. 

Sure, sure, this could dip into sentimentality in less deft writers' hands. But not with Ivey. She reminds us that a fairy tale (and all sentimentality) has a dark possibility. But it also has a reminder of hope and community and connection--if only for a moment. Those blueberries are just a little glimpse at that reminder. 



This is a sad book. A heavy book. This has no Disney ending and there is deep concern for the grief and loss that Mabel and Jack have faced and face again at the end of the book. 

But Ivey dances through this sadness with a lightness, a sense of possibility. With lush descriptions of ice skating and falling snow and two people huddling together--sometimes beneath a pine tree in a blizzard and other times together as they look out the window past their own reflections to two figures playing in the snow. There is a glimmering beauty in the midst of loss.



I could not have chosen a better inaugural novel for this series. To be clear, besides the book based on food (come on, you and I both knew I was choosing that as a category), none of these books have been (or will be) chosen because I think that they'll explicitly connect with food. I just have a hunch that in general most literature will bring us back to food and in particular the literature that I gravitate towards has an almost preternatural disposition towards food. And this book did not disappoint, either in its connection to food or in its narrative.

And so, I am beginning my Cook Your Books series with a lovely book. It's time for blueberry pancakes, my friends. And there's no one better than Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Every Day, to ensure that when we make pancakes, we're making them with health and happiness in mind. We need to commit ourselves to one another and to our own selves more than ever this year. We need more cherished offerings to one another.

Come. Join me. 




------

Blueberry Multigrain Pancakes with Blueberry-Maple Compote

"When [Jack] brought an armload of wood inside, Mabel was cooking pancakes. She dotted a few of the wild blueberries in each one, and they ate them at the table, the small basket between them" (The Snow Child 84-5).

Very liberally adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day

Swanson does not put blueberries in her pancakes and her original compote is with blackberries rather than blueberries. But I wanted a pancake that wasn't made solely from wheat flour. And so here we are. And this is a good place to be, for these pancakes are worth making again and again, regardless of your fruit options.


For the Multigrain Pancakes 

Yield
24-26 silver-dollar pancakes or 12 large pancakes


Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup spelt flour
½ cup rye flour
1½ Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
scant ½ tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
⅓ (3 ounces) butter, melted and cooled a bit, plus more for the skillet
2 cups blueberries

Instructions
1. Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

2. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk the buttermilk and eggs together. Add the butter, and then whisk again.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and then stir until just combined. Gently add the 2 cups of blueberries until they are evenly distributed in the batter.

4.  Heat a griddle until medium-hot, and brush with a little bit of butter. 

5.  Pour the batter 2 Tablespoons at a time onto the griddle (you can make bigger ones if you pour ⅓ or ¼ cup at a time). Cook until the bottoms are golden and the tops have started to bubble. Use a spatula to flip the pancakes. Cook the other side until golden and cooked through. Repeat with remaining batter.

For the Blueberry-Maple Compote 

Yield
1½ cups

Ingredients

2 cups blueberries
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp fresh minced ginger, plus more if needed
1½ tsp fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
Pinch of salt

Instructions
1. Combine the berries along with the maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Gently simmer for 5-8 minutes. 

2.  Stir in the ginger, lemon juice, and salt. Taste and adjust with more lemon or ginger, if needed.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Simple Sauerkraut (And a bonus recipe for Beer-Boiled Bratwursts) for the New Year


Happy New Year!

So if you're in Ohio, West Virginia, or Pennsylvania, and you're from German stock, you just might be eating what we are slurping down today--Brats and Sauerkraut.

Like many good luck foods that usher in a new year, the German tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut come from a long and superstitious line. From hoppin' john to New Year's doughnuts (I love the Dutch!), feasts of good luck are served all over the world. 

But let's face it: the main reason we're eating this dish is because the sauerkraut is darned good. Especially if you make it yourself.


Okay, let me take a long divergence into the world of fermentation--a world where sauerkraut is a resident. I am learning how to make small batch kombucha, something I have been wanting to do for a while. I am on my third batch. The first was a massive success in terms of taste, but my scoby didn't grow. So I did a little reading, and it's possible that I didn't let my first batch sit long enough.  So I let the second batch sit for a month. And I am saying this lightly, but my second batch was an utter and complete failure. A disaster. Full on disgusting.

So I went back to Preserved, which is my favorite shop in Temescal, and got some tips:
  • Be sure the tea is cooled completely before you put in your scoby.
  • Move the vessel from the floor to a counter or table (which might keep it warmer).
  • Start trying it every day after day 7.
I'll keep you posted. (And I mean that literally. Once I get this kombucha thing down, I'll write a post.)

But what I love about this foray into the wild world of fermentation is the continuous surprise that fermented foods bring. Mostly that sense of surprise is of the "I cannot believe I made this" variety. Like, "this is implausible" gasps of delight. But also there is the surprise of "hmm, I wonder which bacteria I am injesting." And "wow, there are a lot of microbes out there. Guess I have to trust in them. I am not so good with blind trust. Let's eat this anyway."  And "I hope I don't die." It's fun.


Enter homemade sauerkraut. Gone are the days of soggy masses of limp and colorless veggies. Welcome, instead, slightly crisp, thoroughly tangy cabbage with a bite that adds a kick to any sandwich or brat. 

Okay, I love sauerkraut, especially on a bratwurst. It's the German in me. The Chicagoan in me (although Chicago's call to kraut is more decidedly Polish than German). My family hails from a long line of Pennsylvania Dutch who meandered from the East Coast to Missouri and then up into Illinois. Further, my mom's last name is about as northern German as they come. A good part of me is definitely German. (Another part of me claims Flemish and British, but today, we're embracing the German.)



However, being German wasn't always something to parade (boy, our country has a pretty bad rap when it comes to inclusion, huh? I could get all political here, but I am going to refrain. It being the new year and all). From an early-20th-century refusal to teach German in schools to a boycott on German goods, WWI had some pretty big anti-German sentiment (as the US along with Europe threw its big arms around Nationalism). And check this: during WWI, sauerkraut was renamed Liberty Cabbage because people just didn't want to be associated with something that sounded German (indeed, sauerkraut was the Freedom Fries of the 1910s). (Also hamburgers became liberty burgers. I kid you not.) 

But call it whatever you will--sauerkraut, liberty cabbage, zuurkool (Dutch), choucroute (French)-- take the time to make your own small batch sauerkraut and you'll be glad you did. And when I say "small batch" I mean, take 10 minutes to massage some salt into one head of cabbage and you'll have 1 mason jar full of sauerkraut. 

That's it. It doesn't take long, it doesn't take too much room, and you don't end up with too much.

Photographic evidence. One head of cabbage in each bowl. Bowl on left has been massaged for 10 minutes.

So what's going on when it comes to the kraut? Well, enter Kitchn to explain it to us:  
"Lactobacillus is one of those bacteria [found on the surface of cabbage], which is the same bacteria found in yogurt and many other cultured products. When submerged in a brine, the bacteria begin to convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid; this is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria."
Proper way to drink champagne while making sauerkraut.

And sauerkraut is one of the easiest entrees into the fermentation world. While you can mess it up (and don't worry, I am pretty likely to do so), it is a pretty forgiving process. Plus, you don't need any fancy equipment. In fact, Tess Ward's recipe below requires a bowl and a plate with weights on it. 

I do have some fancy equipment because this fall, my father-in-law gave me this thing (see below photo) that I have no idea what to call for my birthday. I was calling it my spring-loaded shot glass. But it's much better than that. It's a spring-loaded weight that fits inside a wide-mouth mason jar. Perfect for small batch sauerkraut or kimchi (ah, kimchee! I plan to make that next (stay tuned)).  

What is this thing called?

This is about as simple as it gets.

So today, for the new year, after the husband and I went for a simple little hike in Tilden Park, we came home to a typical Pennsylvania Dutch lunch. 

May 2017 bring us all luck. I think we're going to need it.




Sauerkraut

Adapted from Tess Ward's Naked Cookbook

Yield:
1 1-Quart Mason Jar

Ingredients:
1 cabbage (red or green)
1¼ Tbsp fine sea salt
2 tsp caraway seeds

Instructions:
1. Cut the cabbage into quarters and cut out the core. Thinly slice each quarter into ribbons.

2.  Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and caraway seeds. Then, using your hands, massage the salt and seeds into the cabbage for about 10 minutes.

3.  Weigh the cabbage down with a plate slightly smaller than the bowl and place a heavy object on the plate. Cover the bowl with a cloth and secure it with a rubber band (this keeps dust and bugs out but airflow in and out). 

4.  Let the cabbage ferment at room temperature (65-75 degrees) away from direct sunlight for 7-10 days, pressing down on the plate every so often in the first 48 hours. You want to ensure that the cabbage is submerged in the liquid it puts out. 

5.  Begin tasting the sauerkraut after 7 days. Once you get the taste you like, put it in the refrigerator. Transfer to sterilized, dry jars and store for several months (longer if refrigerated). 

(Bonus recipe for beer-boiled brats, but seriously, the sauerkraut is something you should make often and on its own.)


Beer-Boiled Bratwurst

Yield:
Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 bratwursts
1-2 cans of beer (you want the brats to be submerged)
½ onion, thinly sliced
Pinch of chile pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, sliced in half
salt and pepper
Sauerkraut
Good grainy mustard
Good toasted roll (optional)

Instructions:
1. Preheat a grill.

2.  Combine the beer, onions, chile flakes, garlic, salt and pepper in a medium pan (large enough for the brats). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, submerge the brats, and cook for 15-20 minutes.

3.  Remove the brats from the onion and beer mixture; reduce heat to low. Continue cooking the onions until the beer has mostly evaporated.

4.  Cook the brats on the grill, about 5-10 minutes.  Serve with the onion mixture, sauerkraut, and mustard (and a good toasted roll if using).