Sourdough! Every day!

Oh, how I love the sourdough eCourse! I’ve done fabulous English Muffins, a big ole pancake, and tomorrow we’ll make some muffins! Yep, sourdough muffins. I’ve also watched the lessons on cake and on cinnamon rolls–yum!!

These baked goods use baking soda right before baking so it’s not chewy like bread, but fluffy like, well, like baked goods! The other thing that the baking soda does is react with the acids in the sourdough to produce lots of bubbles. Besides puffing up the treats, this also neutralizes the acids, taking away the sour taste. So in case you were worrying, there’s no weird sweet-and-sour thing going on here.

What we accomplish by using an overnight soak with the sourdough is that the phytic acid that is naturally present in bran is neutralized. Phytic acid is called an “anti-nutrient” because it has a nasty habit of binding with good nutrients and taking them out of your body. You want to reduce the phytic acid content of whole grains as much as possible through soaking, sprouting or souring before eating.

So, yay sourdough!

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Kombucha in da house

A few weeks ago, I saw somebody who had extra kombucha mushrooms to give away. I had investigated this a year or so ago, but then was too scared to try it in the end. This time, before heading out to the West end to pick up this strange living item, I bought a bottle of kombucha (“The Wonder Drink” brand) to see if I would actually like this fermented tea business anyway.

Turns out I do! It is sweet and sour, slightly fizzy, and very refreshing at the end of a meal

So I went and picked up my mushroom. It’s not a real mushroom, but rather a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (also called a SCOBY) that forms a flat “mushroom” which floats on top of sweetened tea, turning it into this interesting drink.

It really is pretty cool. The mushroom is sortof slimy and creepy, and the thing that weirds out my partner the most is that with every batch, it makes a “baby” that floats on top of the old mushroom, which can then be given away to someone else who can start making their own kombucha. I’ve got a couple hanging out in my fridge right now if anyone wants it!

What you do to make 3 litres is you steep four tea bags in 1 litre of boiling water, to which you have added 1 cup of white sugar. You dissolve the sugar and let the tea steep for at least 15 minutes. You then remove the tea bags and add 2 litres of cold water. Then you add your mushroom plus maybe a half-cup of kombucha from the previous batch, and make sure the mushroom is floating nicely on top. Then cover with a tea towel and let it sit for a week. After that you bottle it and then enjoy! One website I read said to leave the bottled drink out for a few more days to get it more fizzy, but I didn’t find a great difference. It would be work playing with though.

My first batch, I made in a large pyrex bowl. It worked fantastically, but I use that bowl almost daily for baking and whatnot, so I went to a local wine making store (Musca, on Somerset W) and bought a 5 Litre wide-mouth demijohn. This is a wonderful container for making kombucha. The mouth is plenty wide enough to remove tea bags, gently place the mushroom, etc. And the 5 L capacity means there is plenty of air circulation (I have no idea if the kombucha needs this; I’m just guessing since all of the instructions stress covering it with a tea towel, not something air-tight). I just secure a tea towel over the top with a large elastic band, and leave it on the shelf for a week.

Is it a miracle drink? There is lots of info out there on kombucha, most of it controversial.┬áKombucha contains lactic acid, and many of the same pro-biotics as yogurt, so it should aid digestion. There has been no scientific evidence for the claims made by some. The bottom line seems to be that it isn’t dangerous, and it’s healthier than soft drinks.

I dunno–everyone in my house is sick right now except for me, so I’m leaning toward the “miracle drink” side of things ­čśë

Are you curious? Ottawanians, leave me a comment if you want to try it, or if you would welcome a mushroom into your life. A new baby arrives every week! Come on, share the love!

Kitchenaid Grain Mill Attachment = AWESOME!!!

(Update, March 2014: Boy I was excited when I bought this grain mill! I have used my it and enjoyed it now for nearly four years, and find it most successful for milling rye flour to feed my sourdough, and using rye flour as an additional grain in wheat-based breads, but I have not successfully made bread using 100% home milled wheat flour using this grinder. Not to say it isn’t possible! I confess to not trying all that hard. Please read all the comments below, and other reviews online if you are considering purchasing a Kitchenaid Grain Mill.)

Last week I broke down and bought a KITCHENAID GRAIN MILL ATTACHMENT WOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Okay, there are probably a few of you out there who don’t quite get the all-caps-league excitement. I’ll admit I pretty much nerded out on this one. But I’ve been thinking about this one for awhile now, and I believe it was a good move to bring more nutrition to our baked goods.

Here are some things I have recently read about flour:

– Whole wheat flour is not really “whole”. It has part of the germ removed because the germ, which contains oils, can go rancid quite quickly. So they remove this to make it more shelf stable.

– The germ contains most of the nutrition, including B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, zinc, copper, manganese and potassium. It also contains enzymes that help your body in numerous ways. None of this makes its way into store-bought flour.

– Store-bought whole wheat only has a fraction of the fiber that whole grain fresh flour has.

– Wheat berries are incredibly shelf stable, lasting years–possibly even decades!

I recently threw out most of a 10 kilo bag of (poor quality) whole wheat flour because it went rancid. For me, moving to grinding my own flour will mean producing less waste as well as better nutrition. It will also be cheaper than buying organic flour from the store.

And it makes AMAZING pancakes!

Plus, I’m hoping to be able to help out some of my friends who are gluten-free by milling flour for them. There are several grains that are gluten free, but finding these specialty flours is hard–not to mention expensive! So if you’re in need of some gluten-free flour, let me know and I’ll share the bounty ­čÖé

The only glitch in my plan is that I’ve found fresh flour acts quite differently in bread making than store-bought flour. This might be because the increased bran cuts more of the gluten strands, making it harder to get a light, airy loaf. It could be because the grind is not as fine as store-bought flour. Or, it could be that some oxidization actually helps the flour produce a better loaf, as posited by some users on The Fresh Loaf.

I read a lot of grain mill reviews before buying the Kitchenaid attachment. This one has many negative reviews due to people burning out the motors on their mixers. But knowing this gives me power–instead of going ahead and milling 10 cups on the finest setting at the highest speed, I’m choosing to mill smaller amounts at a time, doing two (or three) passes, moving from coarse to fine, at slower speeds. I was thrilled that my machine, a 325 Watt Artisan, didn’t even break a sweat.

The other benefit of the Kitchenaid Grain Mill is that it can mill very coarsely, which will be great for cracking grains for porridge or for multigrain mixes for bread. I’ve heard fresh-cracked corn grits are amazing!

I’ve now got some new challenges, and new projects ahead of me. I’m EXCITED!!!

Kefir-licious?

I recently acquired some kefir grains, after reading about its magical health properties. Very exciting! These grains can culture milk at room temperature, making a yogurt-like substance, only much thinner than yogurt. (They’re ┬ánot actually grain like cereal grain, but a symbiotic yeast-bacteria colony that forms gel-like curds called grains. Yum!)

I actually don’t like the taste of it plain, but I’ve used it successfully in smoothies, and in bread-making. It is much cheaper than buying yogurt, so I’m going to try using it as a substitute for yogurt, and for buttermilk, in recipes.

If you’re in the Ottawa area and want to try it yourself, let me know and I can give you some of the grains once mine have multiplied enough to share. Any other kefir suggestions?

Cheap as free chicken stock

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this before. It’s such a part of my life that I suppose I just assumed that I must have written about it. It’s a recipe and it’s a way of life: making chicken broth from frozen accumulated chicken bones and veggie scraps.

Simply put, whenever we have chicken I save the bones in a zip-lock baggie in the freezer. I keep all the bones (including the ones off your plate if you ever come to my house for dinner), and the scraps including some skin. I also keep my veggie scraps, especially those from onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, shallots and garlic.

When I have enough, I stick everything in my crock pot overnight with a couple of bay leaves and some apple cider vinegar, and simmer until it’s time to make soup for dinner the next day. You can do this on the stove as well, with a pot on the lowest setting.

This stuff is delicious and wonderfully nutritious. The acid from the vinegar helps to break down the proteins, making home made broth a great source for dissolved minerals which are readily taken up by the body. I’ve also recently read that┬ágelatin-rich broths actually help your body absorb protein from other sources, so you can get by with less meat. Just another reason why soups are so frugal.

I’ve got a pot simmering right now for tonight’s soup. We’ll have chicken soup and home made bread. Now that’s frugally delicious ­čÖé

A new way with oatmeal

Okay, that might sound like the most boring, nerdiest thing ever, but I’m really excited about this new way with oatmeal! I have always heard that oatmeal is a real “stick to your ribs” kind of meal, one that keeps you going all morning; well, I’ve never found that to be true . . . until now!

What is this fantastic method? It is as simple as soaking the oats overnight in water that has a small amount of yogurt whey added to it. This idea comes from Nourishing Traditions, a cookbook that, among other things, emphasizes soaking grains to make them more digestible and nutritious.

It makes a lovely soured flavour, and a creamy texture, and it boils up a lot more quickly (I use large flake). I have been eating it with yogurt and maple syrup. I had gotten into more of a toast routine for breakfast, but I’m happy to go back to oatmeal, especially as what I’m eating is now more delicious, nutritious and satisfying than ever before.

How do you like your oatmeal?